The ability for learners to interact online via their avatars in a 3-D simulation space means that virtual worlds afford a host of educational opportunities not offered by other learning technology platforms, but their use also raises several pertinent issues that warrant consideration. This chapter reviews the educational use of virtual worlds from a design perspective. Virtual-world definitions are explored, along with their key educational characteristics. Different virtual-world environments are briefly contrasted, including Second Life, Active Worlds, Open Sim, and Minecraft. A wide variety of virtual-world uses in schools and universities are examined so as to understand their versatility. Key educational benefits of virtual worlds are distilled from the literature, such as the ability to facilitate 3-D simulations, role-plays, construction tasks, and immersive learning. Emergent issues surrounding the use of virtual worlds are also analyzed, including cognitive load, safety, and representational fidelity. One higher education and one school level vignette are provided in order to offer more detailed insight into the use of virtual worlds in practice. Recommendations for learning design and implementation are presented, based on the thematic analysis of contemporary virtual-worlds research.
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