Using Design-Based Research for Virtual Worlds Research Projects

Antonio Santos


Due to the characteristics of educational virtual worlds, the present manuscript underlines the need for a research model that considers the social context as part of its unit of analysis instead of just the individual’s cognitive process and learning. It is proposed that such a research approach could be design-based research (DBR), because the methodology employed by the DBR perspective thoroughly meets the challenges related to understanding how learning occurs inside a complex context of activities and interactions like those that usually take place inside an educational virtual environment. To accomplish this, the DBR employs an iterative methodology, which consists of repeating cycles of design, implementation, analysis, and redesign. This systematic procedure allows theory to emerge during the process and, thus, using DBR a researcher not only understands how to improve the quality of a certain virtual world, but also addresses theoretical issues regarding the theoretical background on which her design was based to revise and extend it. The main objective of this article is to propose the use of design-based research as a viable methodology to do research in a virtual world like Second Life and to describe in detail how to do it. First, the design-based research approach is explained in terms of its origins, its methodological resources, and its theoretical underpinnings. Secondly, considering the characteristics and affordances of virtual worlds, an adaptation is proposed and explained to employ it for a virtual world research project. Finally, an example of a research project is built to show how the proposed design-based research methodology can be applied to plan it and revise its underlying theory.


Design-based research; Multi-user virtual environments; Constructivist pedagogy; Situated cognitive paradigm

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