The Future of Blockchain Technologies in Higher Education


Figure 1. Blockchain. (2016), by portal gda. Retrieved from Made available under Creative Commons Licence.

This literature review research examines the rise of blockchain technology, its close relationship with bitcoin and other digital currencies as well as the affordances of blockchain technology. The report examines the various ways in which blockchain technology is currently being used across a range of industries as well as potential use cases for other industries. This case study concludes by showcasing the potential for blockchain technology to disrupt education both now and in the future.

This report presents the results of an empirical inquiry which investigated blockchain technology, how it is being used today and its value proposition for higher education. In particular, the study will attempt to ascertain the perceived opportunities that enhance and barriers that hinder the takeup of blockchain technology in education. The case study was designed as an intensive examination of a single case which includes a one hour Skype interview with a prominent thought leader in the form of Georgios Papageorgiou from the Master of Science in Digital Currency degree program at the University of Nicosia plus an informal face-to-face conversation with Dr Jason Potts, Associate Professor at the School of Economics at RMIT University and the use of a survey tool (see Appendix A).

A short survey was developed using SurveyMonkey and distributed via social media on LinkedIn, Twitter, this blog and also by email. The survey was extensively promoted over several weeks on Twitter using a range of popular educational hashtags such as #edchat, #edtech, #education and #edutech. Other hashtags used included #blockchain, #highered and #smartcontracts.

The survey was designed to appeal to anyone who is in any way interested in education and/or information and communication technologies. This includes teachers, educational researchers, lecturers, educational designers, learning designers and educational technologists.

The survey offers respondees the opportunity to think about how blockchain technology could be effectively deployed at their place of employment as well as how blockchain technology could be used in education in general.

Although heavily promoted on Twitter and to a lesser extent LinkedIn, for one reason or another, less than a handful of people completed the survey. Perhaps the small number of respondees may be attributed to the fact that blockchain technology is both fairly new and quite technical. As such, only a very small number of people are likely to know what blockchain technology is let alone feel comfortable trying to predict how it may be used in the future. The upshot of which was a dearth of data. Consequently, it was simply not possible to compile the data and attempt to draw conclusions of any sort about the future of blockchain technology.

What is a blockchain and what are its affordances?

Davidson, De Filippi & Potts (2016) state that a blockchain is a highly transparent, resilient and efficient distributed public ledger. In essence, a blockchain is an encrypted, distributed ledger technology through which digital transactions can be securely made and recorded without approval from a central certifying authority such as a financial institution or a clearing house. A blockchain ledger (or database) is distributed in the sense that it is cloud-based, consisting of digital data that is geographically spread across a peer-to-peer network of personal computers. Moreover, a blockchain is a global and open resource in the sense that no company or person owns the technology. Blockchain technology provides a permanent, unalterable record of every single cryptocurrency transaction that has ever been verified.

In addition, blockchain technology is the architecture that underpins the use of bitcoin and many other digital currencies. A blockchain can be either public or private. Whilst a public blockchain can be viewed by anyone with an Internet connection, with a private blockchain, participation in the network is restricted to individuals and devices within the one organisation.

The most obvious affordance of blockchain technology is that it does not rely on a trusted third party in the way that centralized systems do. Blockchain technology is a potential game-changer for many industries including banking, insurance, energy management, and education. The potential benefits of blockchain technology extend into political, humanitarian, social, and scientific domains (Swan, 2016, p. viii) and may give rise to new organisational and institutional forms of economic governance (Davidson, De Filippi, & Potts, 2016, p. 7).

In the financial services sector, blockchain technology provides the opportunity for more accurate tracking of customer repayment histories, across borders and banks, reducing the risk of defaulters. In education, blockchain technology could potentially give individuals as well as institutions the ability to store secure public records of personal achievement. In healthcare, blockchain technology could allow hospitals and other parties in the healthcare value-chain to share access to their networks without compromising data security and integrity. In energy management, blockchain technology may enable customers to transact in decentralized energy generation schemes such that people will generate, buy, and sell energy to their neighbors. These are just some of the ways in which blockchain technology has the potential to impact a wide range of industries.

What is the nature of the relationship between bitcoin and blockchain?

In order to understand the importance of blockchain technology you first need to know the history of bitcoin which necessitated the use of the first blockchain. Blockchain technology first appeared in theory in a white paper, “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System”, written and published in 2008 by an unknown person or entity using the name Satoshi Nakamoto. In this paper, Nakamoto argued for an electronic payment system based on cryptographic proof instead of trust, allowing any two willing parties to transact directly with each other without the need for a trusted third party (Nakamoto, 2008).

Most people have only a vague understanding of bitcoin the cryptocurrency, and very few have heard of blockchain the technology. Consequently, the words bitcoin and blockchain are sometimes used interchangeably depending upon the context. In some situations the word blockchain is used to refer to crytocurrencies as a general term, the infrastructure used in bitcoin specifically or it is sometimes used to refer to smart contracts.

How does a blockchain network operate?

Blockchain technology is the architecture that underpins the use of all cryptocurrencies including bitcoin and ether and provides a permanent, unalterable record of every single cryptocurrency transaction that has ever been verified (see Appendix B). Each and every time a cryptocurrency is traded this creates a transaction which is checked for authenticity by the nodes in the network and is either accepted or rejected.

Each transaction is verified by way of a consensus whereby at least 50% of all nodes in the network must authenticate the transaction. It should be noted that nodes are not required to verify transactions created in the network however there is a financial incentive to do so in the form of a bitcoin micropayment. As noted by Flynt (2016), only nodes with the time, inclination, hardware and software are likely to verify each individual transaction.

In particular, the node which is the first to verify the authenticity of any given transaction receives payment in the form of a very small percentage of a cryptocurrency such as bitcoin or ether. This process of verifying a transaction is done by requiring a participant’s computer to perform a significant amount of computational work (‘proof of work’) in the form of a puzzle that is hard to solve (i.e., it takes a lot of work), but easy to verify (i.e., everyone else can check the answer very quickly).

The first node in the network to solve the puzzle wins the prize in the form of a micropayment. This process of solving a puzzle is widely referred to as “mining”. The payment is then credited to the winning node’s ewallet and the transaction in question is permanently assigned to a block on the blockchain.

Once the transaction has been recorded on the blockchain it cannot be amended or deleted. As such, a blockchain provides a permanent record of every single cryptocurrency transaction that has ever been verified. See Appendix A for an infographic from PwC on the actual process.

Are there any challenges associated with blockchain technology?

There are some major problems and perils that need to be overcome before blockchain technology can really start to take off. Bitcoin is the first decentralized digital currency and was introduced in 2009. Bitcoin quickly became the world’s most popular digital currency. However, as a payment system, bitcoin is merely the first step. There are many other payment systems that are currently being developed with most of them being underpinned by blockchain technology.

Currently, it takes approximately 10 minutes for a bitcoin transaction to be verified. In other words, anyone transacting in bitcoin must wait up to 10 minutes for their transaction to be verified and added to the blockchain. Suffice to say, some potential users of blockchain technology may be put off by the fact that there is a time delay with all digital currency transactions. For example, whilst a bitcoin transaction is normally verified in about 10 minutes, an ether transaction is normally verified in about 12 seconds and a stellar transaction is normally verified in about a minute. Consequently, its possible that blockchain technology may take time to build momentum since some potential users of cryptocurrencies may be unwilling to accept online transactions that are not verified in real time.

This is a major impediment to blockchain technology. As humans we are hardwired to want things now. We want instant gratification. Most of what we do in the digital world is done in real time. When we login to our bank account and transfer money from one account to another it happens almost instantaneously. When we buy an ebook on Amazon we have access to our purchase almost immediately on our Kindle. When we go to the Ticketmaster website and purchase tickets to an event we receive an email almost immediately containing the tickets we have just purchased. In other words, whenever we transact online its almost always in real time.

However, with digital currencies we are required to wait anywhere from 12 seconds to 10 minutes for a transaction to be added to the blockchain. Having to wait up to 10 minutes is too long for financial transactions where timing matters to get an asset at a particular price, and where latency exposes traders to time-based arbitrage weaknesses such as market timing attacks (Tapscott & Tapscott, p. 257).

Moreover, blockchain technology lacks the transactional capacity needed to scale up should the user base increase quickly. In particular, due to the limited size of a block (1MB), the network is restricted to processing a maximum of seven transactions per second. By comparison, other transaction processing networks such as VISA verify 2,000 transactions per seconds whilst Twitter verifies 5,000 transactions per second (Swan, 2015, p. 82).

One of the biggest challenges of blockchain technology is that the proof of work (PoW) mechanism consumes a lot of energy since the computer performing the mining operation must spend a considerable amount of computational power and electricity just to provide the proof of work. Moreover, the proof of work (PoW) mechanism is not only costly to the miner who must pay for the electricity they use but is also detrimental to the environment since the mining operation will result in an increase in carbon emissions.

For this reason, in an effort to reduce their energy costs, some bitcoin mining companies have elected to move their operations to countries such as Iceland where there is an abundance of dual source energy in the form of geothermal and hydroelectric energy. Other mining companies have chosen to move to Iceland for ethical as well as business reasons. In particular, as well as reducing their energy costs, they are conscious of their large carbon footprint and want to be seen to be doing something about it.

There are other consensus mechanisms that are currently being developed. These include proof of stake (PoS), proof of activity, proof of burn, proof of capacity and proof of storage. A proof of stake blockchain allows a person to mine a digital currency based on how many coins they currently hold in that currency. In other words, the person is unable to mine the currency unless and until they can prove their “stake” in that particular currency. Proof of activity is another mechanism; it combines proof of work and proof of stake, where a random number of miners must sign off on the block using a cryptokey before the block becomes official. Other blockchains such as Ripple and Stellar, rely on social networks for consensus such that newcomers need social intelligence and reputation to participate.

It should be noted that bitcoin mining will no longer reward new coins once 21 million coins have been mined with the last bitcoin expected to be mined sometime around 2140. In other words, once the last bitcoin has been mined there will be no financial incentive for bitcoin mining to continue to be practiced. As a result, many miners are likely to abandon Bitcoin mining altogether and may move on to mining other cryptocurrencies. However, in the short term at least, this does not solve the problem of energy inefficiency in the sense that the energy which was being used to mine bitcoins will simply be transferred to some other cryptocurrency which may or may not be as energy hungry. In other words, the problem will still exist.

However, over the last year or so, there has been some debate around block size. In particular, the only plausible way to solve this issue would be to increase the block size from 1MB to 20MB. Increasing the block size would mean that a larger number of transactions could be processed per second which would no doubt help to make the blockchain network a more appealing proposition.

How is blockchain technology being used today?

Blockchain technology is nascent and in a phase of tremendous dynamism. At this stage, there’s no evidence of any significant large scale deployment of blockchain technology by any of the major global financial institutions. However, many of the world’s top companies have some sort of internal R&D effort aimed at understanding how the Blockchain will affect their business. Some of these companies have formed consortia so that they can run a proof of concept and demonstrate the feasability of a particular use case involving blockchain technology. For example, in 2016, a consortia consisting of Bank of America Merrill Lynch, HSBC and the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) proved that Letter of Credit transactions can be executed on a blockchain. Other financial institutions that are active in this space include Deloitte and JPMorgan.

IBM is a leading voice in the world of blockchain research and development and has recently announced its intention to open a Blockchain Innovation Center in Singapore with the Center’s first project being to improve efficiency of multi-party trade finance processes and transactions.

Another leading voice in the blockchain stratosphere is R3 which is an alliance of the world’s largest insitutions, with a mission to realise the benefits of distributed ledger technology. This blockchain technology company leads a consortium of 45 financial companies in research and development of blockchain usage in the financial system. The consortia includes several Australian financial institutions namely Commonwealth Bank of Australia, National Australia Bank and Westpac Banking Corporation.

As well as the financial industry, there are opportunities for blockchain technology in many other industries including healthcare, voting, ride sharing, cloud storage, energy management and real estate.

How might blockchains be used in the future?

Davidson, De Filippi & Potts (2016) assert that blockchain technology is a disruptive new technology that could give rise to new organisational and institutional forms of economic governance. Several researchers maintain that blockchain technology is critical to the success of the Internet of Things (IoT) where we register our devices, assign them an identity, and coordinate payment among them using bitcoin. According to Tapscott & Tapscott (2016), the Internet of Things cannot function without blockchain payment networks, where bitcoin is the universal transactional language.

What are smart contracts?

A smart contract is a piece of code that executes a complex set of instructions on the blockchain. Here are some examples of smart contracts:

  • A smart contract connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) could unlock the door of a car or a house
  • A smart contract could be deployed as a pledge system and automatically release funds from the wallets of donors who have made an online funding pledge to a nominated charity if and when the fundraising goal of the charity is reached
  • A smart contract could automatically transfer the ownership of a vehicle title from the financing company to the individual owner when all the loan payments have been made.
  • A smart contract could automatically make an inheritance gift available on either the grandchild’s eighteenth birthday or the grandparent’s date of death.

Moreover, in 2015, Visa and DocuSign developed a proof-of-concept in which they demonstrated the use of smart contracts for leasing cars without the need to fill in forms.


How might blockchains be used in higher education?

For the vast majority of learners today their academic transcripts are managed and controlled by various educational institutions. The learner gets a piece of paper but if anybody wants to verify that credential they have to go back to the educational institution that issued the piece of paper in the first instance. Some researchers see the potential of the blockchain as a way of reaffirming the learner’s ownership of their own record. As a result, most of the research currently being undertaken is around credentialing and open badges. The table below provides a brief overview of some of this research:

Teachur is an open-source platform for building educational objectives, assessments, lessons, courses and degrees tied to the blockchain.
Sony is exploring blockchain based applications for learning by using the technology to send academic records between two parties.
In October 2015, the Holberton School of software engineering announced plans to share academic certificates on blockchain from 2017.
As part of its Master of Science degree in Digital Currency, The University of Nicosia offers a free introductory MOOC titled DFIN-511 Introduction to Digital Currencies. Students who successfully complete the course are issued with an academic certificate the authenticity of which can be verified through the bitcoin blockchain. Moreover, the University also accepts bitcoin for payment of tuition and other fees.
OpenLearn has been trialling a private blockchain for storing educational records. In particular, students register for courses and receive badges which can be viewed in a student Learning Passport with all transactions being timestamped and cryptographically signed on the blockchain. Moreover, OpenLearn have also experimented with using the blockchain to certify the authenticity and validity of student work contained in ePortfolios
In 2015 MIT Media Lab developed a system to issue digital certificates on the bitcoin blockchain. The system makes it possible to verify who a certificate was issued to, by whom, and validate the content of the certificate itself.
BadgeChain is an open repository of posts, news, and notes from Team BadgeChain. The Team consists of experienced badge enthusiasts who are exploring the intersection of blockchain technologies, learning recognition, and digital credentialing.

Appendix A


Appendix B



Allison, I. (2016, July 12). IBM to open blockchain innovation center in Singapore. Retrieved from

Allison, I. (2016, August 10). HSBC and Bank of America Merrill Lynch use hyperledger project for blockchain-based trade finance. Retrieved from

Belshaw, D. (2015, March 30). Peering deep into future of educational credentialing [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Bheemaiah, K. (2015, January). Block chain 2.0: The renaissance of money. Retrieved from

Bitcoin (BTC). (n.d.). Retrieved from

Blair, B. (2016, June 24). Using blockchain to re-imagine learning. Retrieved from Medium website:

Blockchain (database). (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved September 30, 2016, from

Buterin, V. (2015, April 13). Visions, part 1: The value of blockchain technology. Retrieved from

CB Insights. (2016, July 25). Banking is only the start: 20 big industries where blockchain could be used [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Cuthbertson, A. (2014, October 7). Geothermal gold: Why bitcoin mines are moving to Iceland. Retrieved from

Davidson, S., De Filippi, P., & Potts, J. (2016, March 8). Economics of blockchain. or

Eckert, J. (2015, October 21). Holberton school to authenticate its academic certificates with the bitcoin blockchain. Retrieved from

Ethereum (ETH). (n.d.). Retrieved from

Flynt, O. (2016). Blockchain: The ultimate guide to understanding the hidden economy. [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from

Institute for the Future. (2016, March 8). Learning is earning 2026. Retrieved from

Internet of things. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved October 2, 2016, from

Institute for the Future. (2016, April 18). Understand the blockchain in two minutes. Retrieved from

KnowledgeWorks (2016, May 24). Why we need to consider blockchain’s future potential in the education sector. Retrieved from Medium website:

King, K., Prince, K., & Swanson, J. (2016). Learning on the block: Could smart transactional models help power personalized learning? Retrieved from KnowledgeWorks website:

Lemoie, K. (2016, May 12). What blockchain means for higher education. Retrieved from

Levin, D. (2016, March 10). 10 things to know about the future of blockchain in education. Retrieved from

Light, J. (2014, March 11). Experiments in cryptocurrency sustainability. Retrieved from

London Futurists. (2015, June 7). The radical potential of blockchain technology. Retrieved from

Malmo, C. (2015, June 29). Bitcoin is unsustainable. Retrieved from

MIT Media Lab. (2016, June 3). What we learned from designing an academic certificates system on the blockchain. Retrieved from Medium website:

Nakamoto, S. (2008). Bitcoin: A peer-to-peer electronic cash system. Retrieved from

O’Byrne, W. I. (2016, February 18). Digital portfolios + open badges + blockchain = personal learning ledger. Retrieved from Medium website:

Pilkington, M. (2016). Blockchain technology: Principles and applications. In F. Xavier Olleros & Majlinda Zhegu (Eds.), Research handbook on digital transformations.

R3 (company). (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved September 16, 2016, from

Raths, D. (2016, May 16). How blockchain will disrupt the higher education transcript. Retrieved from

Schmidt, P. (2015, October 27). Certificates, reputation, and the blockchain. Retrieved from Medium website:

Sharples, M., & Domingue, J. (2016). The blockchain and kudos: A distributed system for educational record, reputation and reward. In: Verbert, K.; Sharples, M. and Klobuˇcar, T. eds. Adaptive and Adaptable Learning: Proceedings of 11th European Conference on Technology Enhanced Learning (EC-TEL 2015), Lyon, France, 13 – 16 September 2016. Lecture Notes in Computer Science. Switzerland: Springer, pp. 490–496, 10.1007/978-3-319-45153-4_48

Short, T. (2016). Blockchain: The comprehensive guide to mastering the hidden economy. [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from

Sony Global Education. (2016, February 22). Sony Global Education develops technology using blockchain for open sharing of academic proficiency and progress records. Retrieved from

Swan, M. (2015). Blockchain: Blueprint for a new economy [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from

Swanson, J. (2016, August 8). How I learned to stop worrying and trust a trustless system. Retrieved from KnowledgeWorks website

Tapscott, D., & Tapscott, A. (2016, July 27). Thriving after brexit: Scotland should reboot on the blockchain. Retrieved from

Tapscott, D., & Tapscott, A. (2016). Blockchain revolution: How the technology behind Bitcoin is changing money, business, and the world. [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from

University of Nicosia (n.d.). Academic certificates on the blockchain. Retrieved from

Vian, K. (2016, March 16). Own your own achievements: Blockchain tech is disrupting education [blog post]. Retrieved from

Watters, A. (2016, April 7). The blockchain for education: An introduction. Retrieved from

That’s all Folks! aka My Final Reflection


Looking back at my blog posts over the course of the last three years I’m struck by the extent to which technology imbues my life and my work. A cursory look at my blog’s tag cloud is enough to give the game away. I made a point of tagging key words and phrases in my blog posts and now when I look at my blog’s tag cloud (see below) I can see the names of lots of different technologies, some of which are educational and some of which are not. These include BitTorrent Sync, Flipboard, Minecraft, Internet of Things and my new favourite, blockchain. In my defense, not all of the words and phrases in my tag cloud are centred around technology. Indeed, I am heartened to see that the phrase ‘design thinking’ is the most prominent tag in my tag cloud followed closely by ‘Personal Learning Network’, ‘PLN’ and ‘Game based learning’.


The fact that ‘design thinking’ is larger than all the other tags correlates rather nicely with how my views, knowledge and understanding have changed and developed as a direct result of this program. In particular, when I started this course I had never even heard of ‘design thinking’. Fast forward three years and design thinking is a cognitive activity that informs my work as an educational designer such that I make a concerted effort to keep an open mind and leave room for serendipity.

One of the things I talked about in one of my assessments was this idea that we’re all responsible for inadvertently creating our own filter bubble thanks to the technology we use on a daily basis. This course has exposed me to a wide range of ideas and technologies that I would probably not have encountered for quite some time if at all.

Here are some of the highlights in no particular order:

I’m also much more ‘edumacated’ than I was at the start and have added some awesome words and phrases to my vocabulary including:

The colloquia were a fabulous opportunity to engage with one another whilst sharing personal insights. I particularly enjoyed Simon Welsh’s fascinating colloquium on learning analytics. What was really interesting for me was that I was a student discussion moderator for that particular colloquium along with Jerry Leeson and Nadine Bailey.

As a moderator, it was really great to see and hear participants share their personal experiences both synchronously and asynchronously. In particular, Simon’s colloquium provoked some interesting conversations in the virtual classroom and later in the discussion forums. From my point of view, it was great to be able to work collaboratively with others, and to share my view with learners from across the world.

All in all, it has been a wonderful experience but not one I want to repeat anytime soon. Maybe in another 10 years or so. Over the course of this program I have learnt much about myself both as an individual and as an educator plus I have learnt much about technology and the way in way it interfaces with learning and teaching.



Brown, T. (2009). Change by design: How design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from

Clark, G. (2014). Personalization, privacy and the filter bubble. Retrieved from

McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from

Pariser, E. (2011). The filter bubble: What the internet is hiding from you [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from

What Has INF541 Taught Me About Myself, Games And Game-Based Learning?

When chickens attack

‘When chickens attack’ by Dan Jones available at under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

This subject has been a real eye opener for me. I used to do a lot of gaming about twenty years ago and at one point for a period of about 6 months to a year became quite obsessed with it. Last year I had the pleasure of reading Jane McGonigal’s fabulous book Reality is broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world.

As an ex-gamer, much of McGonigal’s (2010) book made perfect sense to me. When McGonigal described the feeling of fiero gamers sometimes experience I knew exactly what she meant because I had experienced an emotional high two or three times whilst playing computer games in the 1990s.

On one particular occasion when I had won a cultural victory after playing a very long game as the Egyptians in Civilization. This particular game seemed to go on forever but it culminated in my achieving a cultural victory over the other six or seven civilizations. I can distinctly remember being very excited and feeling like I wanted everyone to know about my achievement.

Like Gee (2004) who made a conscious decision to play online games in order to be authentic, I fervently believe that no-one can really write about games and gaming unless and until they’ve actually done it. Afterall, how can someone convincingly write about World of Warcraft or Grand Theft Auto if they’ve never played it? Anyhow, up until last year, I had barely played any computer games other than the occasional short game of Civilization which I still had on my computer but which had lost much of its shine.

As a direct result of this subject (INF541), as well as playing some cool games including Ingress, Plague Inc, Fate of the World and World of Warcraft, I have been exposed to some of the theories of learning that intersect with game-based learning including social constructionism. In fact, I can honestly say that I witnessed social constructionism first hand when I researched and subsequently played World of Warcraft. What an amazing game.

The thing I liked most about this subject is that it has given me permission to play games again. Not only that but it has given me permission to feel good about doing so. Up until recently, like many others my age (over 50 and proud of it), I would have felt guilty about wasting my time when I could have been doing something more productive.

This subject has actually helped to change my mind about game-based learning. In the past, like many educators I had never really given much thought to the implications of playing games in the classroom. Having played several different games over the last 10 weeks or so I am convinced that there’s definitely a place for game-based learning in education. It has saved me from myself. It has reawakened my interest in playing games.

But its not just the young who can benefit from playing video games. I’ve seen a few journal articles recently which state that video games boost the brain power of the elderly and make them feel better about themselves in general. I fully intend to do whatever I can to safeguard cognition in my later years and I honestly believe that I will still be playing games for medicinal purposes and otherwise. How about you?



McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world. Penguin.

Good Game Design, Transmedia Storytelling and the Challenge of Engaging the ‘Net’ Generation

‘Transmedia Experience’ by Gerolf Nikolay available at under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0. Full terms at

‘Transmedia Experience’ by Gerolf Nikolay available at under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

When it comes to the holding power of video games, you can’t go past games such as World of Warcraft, Grand Theft Auto and Civilization. All three have been around for more than 10 years and have clearly struck a chord with the video gaming public as evidenced by their loyal following. But what is it about these commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) games and others like them that has allowed them to attract and engage large numbers of users over a long period of time? What are some of the learning principles that have been incorporated into the design of these and other successful COTS video games? How can we tap into the principles of so called ‘good game design’ to develop educational games that provide learners with compelling, immersive and virtual experiences that stimulate cognitive growth and improve learning?

This literary composition will use Gee’s (2004) list of learning principles as a framework with which to focus on a couple of key events in the history of game-based learning. In particular, this essay will examine the rise of the seminal video game World of Warcraft. In doing so, this composition will attempt to answer two questions: Why is it that some video games have quickly found an audience whilst others have struggled to get off the ground? To what extent do these and other successful video games represent exemplars of good game design?

Finally, this essay will conclude by looking at the future of game-based learning as evidenced by the release of Ingress which will be examined through Gee’s (2004) learning principles framework as well as the advent of transmedia storytelling in the form of the Endgame trilogy (Endgame: The Calling, Endgame: Ancient Societies and Endgame: Proving Ground). Gee provides a useful checklist of learning principles organised into three sections with which to score the potential for learning in a video game (see table below).

I. Empowered

II. Problem Solving

III. Understanding

1. Co-design
2. Customize
3. Identity
4. Manipulation
5. Well-Order Problems
6. Pleasantly Frustrating
7. Cycles of Expertise
8. Information “On Demand”
and “Just in Time”
9. Fish Tanks
10. Sandboxes
11. Skills as Strategies
12. System Thinking
13. Meaning as Action Image


To what extent is World of Warcraft an example of good game design?

So does World of Warcraft measure up as a good game when assessed against Gee’s (2004) checklist of learning principles? Released in 2004 by developer Blizzard Entertainment, World of Warcraft was well received by critics and players alike and quickly found its place in the world of video games. The following year World of Warcraft was awarded Best Mac OS X Entertainment Product at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco and Best PC Game, Best Multiplayer Game, Best RPG, and Most Addictive Game at the Spike TV Video Game Awards in Los Angeles.

By 2007 World of Warcraft had won a range of awards and amassed 9.2 million subscribers. In 2009, the Guinness Book of World Records awarded World of Warcraft a world record for the most popular MMORPG by subscribers by which point it had garnered 11.5 million subscribers. By 2012, World of Warcraft had become the highest grossing video game of all time having grossed over 10 billion US dollars in sales. In January 2014 Blizzard announced that more than 100 million World of Warcraft accounts had been created over the game’s lifetime.

In recent years, some researchers have begun to question the future of World of Warcraft based on the fact that the number of subscribers appears to have hit a peak in 2010 and has been trending down ever since:

1) 2010 – 12.1 million subscribers
2) 2011 – 10.2 million subscribers
3) 2012 – 9.1 million subscribers
4) 2013 – 8.2 million subscribers
5) 2014 – 7.8 million subscribers

There’s no doubt World of Warcraft has been a phenomenal success but how do we account for that success? When the game is examined alongside Gee’s (2004) checklist of learning principles it is immediately clear that World of Warcraft is particularly strong in category I. Empowered Learners. Players in World of Warcraft have a lot of control over almost every aspect of the game including their own learning. Not only can they customize their character’s appearance but they can also customize their game play. In particular, each time a player goes into World of Warcraft they are asked to choose their realm style with a number of different realms being available to choose from including:

1). PvE (Player vs. Environment)
2). PvP (Player vs. Player)
3). RP (Roleplaying in a PvE realm), and
4). RP-PvP (Roleplaying in a PvP realm)

Social identity is an important aspect of any massively multiplayer online role-playing game (or MMORPG) and World of Warcraft is no exception. A new player in World of Warcraft gets to design their own character (or avatar) from the ground up. Before entering the game they must create their first character. In doing so, they must choose their first character’s realm, race and class. After that the new player can make adjustments to their character’s appearance before choosing a name for their character and entering the game.

Moreover, a player in World of Warcraft may create up to eleven characters per realm, with a maximum of fifty characters per account. Blizzard allow up to fifty characters per account for the simple reason that they know many players will probably want to experiment with different styles of gameplay. In fact, often this is exactly what happens. A player may end up creating lots of different characters with just one or two of them being their ‘main’ character or characters, that is to say, the one or ones they play with most of the time.

A player can view the realm they are currently playing in from just about any angle. They can zoom in and look closely at almost anything including their own character. By default, a player sees their current realm from the viewpoint of their character, that is to say, a player will normally see the back of their character’s head whilst playing World of Warcraft. However, a player can zoom in or zoom out at any time. They can also change the angle of view and look up to the sky or down to the ground. They can even turn around and look back at their own character. In effect, they can view anything from any angle.

A large part of the attraction to World of Warcraft is its gameplay which is very flexible. For example, a single player may choose to accept a quest from a quest giver or they may seek to join a group, a raid or a guild. The former often involves very little social interaction with any other player in the game whereas all of the other options would obviously require a high level social interaction between the player and other players.

Gee (2004) states that good games are pleasantly frustrating in that the player has reached the limit of their current knowledge. However, they are completely and utterly immersed in the game play and are experiencing what McGonigal (2011) terms ‘blissful productivity’. Although they are somewhat frustrated by their lack of progress, they’re having so much fun doing what they’re doing that they’re not about to give up anytime soon.

In essence, players in World of Warcraft are creating more than one character so that they can experiment with identity. In fact, being able to manipulate one’s identity in an MMORPG is one of the reasons why gamers keep coming back. Because they have invested so much time and effort in creating their character they form an attachment to their personalised character, and feel more invested in their character’s development.

World of Warcraft is well-represented on social media with the fan-created World of Warcraft wiki consisting of over 100,000 pages. There’s also an official World of Warcraft YouTube channel which was setup in 2006 and which has had over 173,000,000 views. As well as that, there is a Facebook page, a Twitter account and a Google+ page. Click here to view Blizzard’s first official World of Warcraft infographic which includes some fun and surprising never-before-seen facts about the game. Moreover, a World of Warcraft movie is scheduled for release in June, 2016.


To what extent is Ingress an example of good game design? To what extent does Ingress represent the present (and possibly the future) of game-based learning?

In 2010, the NMC Horizon Report predicted that simple augmented reality (AR) would be the next big thing in education within the next two or three years. Unfortunately, AR has failed to make much of an impact in the classroom. However, we are closer than we have ever been with a small number of augmented reality games starting to make inroads into education. Augmented reality games are typified by their use of technology to overlay digital information on an image of something being viewed through a device.

In just the last few years, there have been several significant developments which are on the cutting edge of augmented reality, alternate reality and transmedia storytelling. Apart from Google Glass and the Oculus Rift, there have been several other innovations including Ingress, a game developed by Niantic Labs which is a start-up within Google. Strictly speaking, Ingress is an augmented reality massively-multiplayer online role-playing game (or ARMMORPG) since it combines an AR game with an MMORPG. Ingress is a location-based game in which gameplay involves travelling around and using the GPS on your mobile phone and/or your iPad to locate and then interact with portals either individually or in a team.

There are a wide range of Ingress-related resources available on the Internet. These include official resources released by Google and Niantic Labs as well as a plethora of user-generated content. Official Ingress resources include a Help Centre, a YouTube channel, a Facebook page, a Google+ community, a Twitter account and a range of audio and eBooks available from Google Play and Amazon. User-generated content includes a selection of YouTube videos, a wiki, a forum and a guide. No-one other than Niantic Labs and Google knows for sure how many people are playing Ingress. However, in 2014, Google revealed that Ingress had been downloaded by more than 7 million people in the past year.

Unlike World of Warcraft, a player in Ingress doesn’t have a character (or avatar) that they can customise. Games like World of Warcraft and Civilization allow the player to heavily customise their gameplay whereas Ingress will only allow a player to choose their character’s name and the faction that they belong to. There are two factions in Ingress with the Enlightened faction being represented by the colour green whilst the Resistance faction is represented by the colour blue. Both factions have the same abilities.

Whereas other MMORPGs and MMOGs create virtual communities, Ingress is a little different in that players are encouraged to interact with each other both in the virtual world as well as the physical world. Game play is such that each player is encouraged to reach out to other players who live in their local area. There are currently 8 access levels in Ingress and a player can level up by completing actions which will earn them action points (or AP). These actions include:

1) Creating a link from one portal to another (313 AP)
2) Creating a control field (1,250 AP)
3) Upgrading a resonator (65 AP), and
4) Hacking an enemy portal (100 AP)

A single player at a lower level will have no difficulty creating lower level portals. However, if a single player at a higher level wants to create a higher level portal then they are going to have to physically get together with other higher level players in order to do so. In other words, a higher level player can achieve so much more if they are prepared to collaborate with other higher level players in their local area. In fact, this is exactly what a lot of players do. They organise meetups where they travel around as a group and concentrate their efforts so that they can earn more AP than they would if they were to do so individually.

When viewed through the prism of Gee’s (2004) learning principles to what extent does Ingress represent an example of good game design? Like World of Warcraft, Ingress is strong in all three categories. However, it could be argued that it is particularly strong in the Problem Solving category. The challenges in Ingress are, for the most part, pleasantly frustrating.

Ingress has quickly become popular and is now played by millions of people across the world on a daily basis. One of the biggest reasons why Ingress has become so popular is because it is inherently social. Where once playing video games was, by its very nature, anti-social since it meant sitting at home by yourself in front of a computer, nowadays playing many video games is prosocial in the sense that you are actively encouraged to socialise (both online and offline) with others.

Ingress is particularly prosocial in the sense that it emphasises cooperation, collaboration and mobility. You can’t play Ingress by sitting around at home. The first thing you need to do is to download the Ingress app and install it onto your mobile phone (Android or iOS) and/or your iPad. After that, you need to choose your faction, your agent name and get yourself outside. Once outside you just need to start earning AP by playing the game. In particular, you need to move around in the physical world either individually or in a group with other agents and interact with the portals and control fields in your local area. This includes hacking them as well as creating them. There are a range of medals you can earn whilst playing Ingress including the Trekker medal which is achieved based on the total distance the agent has walked while playing the game.


To what extent is the Endgame trilogy an example of good game design? Does the Endgame trilogy represent the future of game-based learning?

The Endgame trilogy consists of Endgame: Ancient Societies, Endgame: The Calling and Endgame: Proving Ground plus a series of novellas and is an example of transmedia storytelling where a range of media are in the process of being used in an integrated way across books, a film, social media and a mobile game.

I. Endgame:
The Calling

II. Endgame:
Ancient Societies

III. Endgame:
Proving Ground

– a book – a book (TBC) – a book (TBC)
– an ebook – a movie (Jun 2016) – an AR game (TBC)

Transmedia storytelling is a new and emerging field and its use in education is still quite experimental. However, it is already showing great promise as a technique with which to improve students’ cognitive, social and emotional engagement (Rodríguez-Illera & Molas-Castells, 2014).

At this stage, it’s too early to predict whether or not this project will go on to be a success. Thus far, on the Amazon website at least, the Endgame: The Calling book has been reviewed by over 120 customers with the average rating being 3.4 out of 5. Moreover, there are a range of resources including an Endgame Twitter account, an Ancient Societies Twitter account, an Ancient Societies YouTube account and an Ancient Societies website.

In conclusion, Niantic and Google have clearly learnt a lot from Ingress and it is to be hoped that the ongoing rollout of the Endgame project including the Endgame: Proving Ground augmented reality game will continue to take advantage of new and emerging innovations in the fields of transmedia storytelling and augmented reality. If this is the case, then its entirely possible that the Endgame: Proving Ground augmented reality game as well as the rest of the Endgame project as a whole will be held up as an exemplar of good game design. In particular, assuming the Endgame AR game continues to actively encourage cooperation, collaboration and mobility then there’s every probability that it will successfully overcome the challenge of engaging the ‘Net’ generation.



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How can games help us to develop a more socially inclusive classroom?

In his Good video games and good learning Gee (2005) identifies a total of 16 learning principles that are incorporated into good games. In outlining his Risk Taking principle Gee states that players are encouraged to take risks, explore, and try new things (p. 35). Deyenberg (2013) states that video games are a viable option to explore for students with physical disabilities, allowing them the opportunity to move and explore in a virtual world that which they cannot in the physical world (p. 11).

There are several perceived affordances in the design of educational games. Traditionally, people with disabilities have not always been able to access the learning they need when they need it. Educational games have largely overcome that problem by providing a range of options whereby a player with a physical disability can interact with a game without having to use a joystick, a mouse or even a keyboard. In other words, depending upon the game they are playing, they can play the game by using voice commands and/or gestures. Similarly, a player with a mild cognitive disability such as Dyslexia or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may become highly motivated and engaged when playing a well designed educational game.

As well as that, according to Gee’s list of learning principles, players experience a sense of agency or control when playing games. In game-based learning environments, the player can customise many aspects of the game to fit their learning and playing styles (p. 35). This affordance means that whereas previously, learners had no input into their own learning, with the advent of educational games, players now have much more control. As an example, at the start of Civilization V: Brave New World a player will first need to decide whether to play the game as a single player or a multiplayer. After that, if they’ve chosen to play as a single player then they have the option of customising their experience of the game by selecting from a range of setup options including civilization, map size, and difficulty level. Once play is underway, the player will typically work towards a goal, choosing actions and experiencing the consequences of those actions along the way.

Gee (2005) outlines his learning principle of performance before competence and states that players can perform before they are competent, supported by the design of the game (p. 37). In other words, in a game, a player is free to make mistakes without fear of being judged and/or ridiculed. He or she can play the same level over and over until they finally gain the competence they need to level up. Conversely, in an educational setting, learners are rarely encouraged to gain competence in this way. They are normally tasked with gaining competence by reading texts. They’re not allowed to just experiment until they get it right. They have to do the prescribed reading so that, when given the order to do so, they can get it right on their first attempt.

In summary, educational games are a powerful tool to be used by the teacher to create a more socially inclusive classroom since they provide a safe environment for repeated practice without a sense of failure.



Deyenberg, J. (2013). Video games in an inclusive learning environment. Retrieved from

Gee, J. P. (2005). Good video games and good learning. Phi Kappa Phi Forum, 85(2), 33-37.

Digital games are most definitely still being overlooked in ‘digital education’ reform


I’ve been working in higher education for many years and I can honestly say that I don’t recall ever having encountered any form of game-based learning. Several years ago, as a challenge to myself, I created a guided, digital crossword puzzle but that was predicated on the students already knowing the answers. In other words, it didn’t involve the students learning by doing or learning from doing. In order to complete the puzzle, the students simply needed to know the answer to the question or the missing word.

As a professional educator, I’ve been hearing about game-based learning for some years. The 2011 Higher Ed Edition of the annual NMC Horizon Report predicted that game-based learning would gain widespread usage within two to three years, however that hasn’t really eventuated. I suspect there has been piecemeal takeup in secondary education but I’m struggling to think of a credible example of game-based learning in higher education that I’ve heard about through my Personal Learning Network (PLN).

In 2013 I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Jeffrey Brand from Bond University. Professor Brand has developed a career exploring the cognitive and behavioural effects of electronic media on young audiences and has been known to hold classes in Minecraft.

As highlighted by Josh Jennings in his excellent article titled Teachers re-evaluate value of video games, in Australia at least, there are distinct barriers to the widespread adoption of game-based learning. In particular, there’s a definite cultural barrier in the sense that many educators still think of playing games as time-wasting. In their view, students don’t play games to learn. They play games to avoid doing what they should be doing which is their homework.

Having read Jane McGonigal’s provocative book, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, I’m convinced there’s a place for game-based learning in higher education. I’m just not sure what that place will look like. Plus I think the jury is still out on the effectiveness (or otherwise) of game-based learning as an instructional strategy to engage students in higher education. As per the article, I think we need more longitudinal studies on the subject.

In fact, apart from the fact that I’m keen to learn more about game-based learning, my main reason for doing this particular subject is that I hope to be able to influence my peers both now and in the future to seriously consider game-based learning as a legitimate, sustainable instructional strategy.

For game-based learning to have any chance of succeeding we need to encourage innovative teaching practice. We need educators who are prepared to take risks both face-to-face and online in the hope that by doing so they will be able to engage their students and improve student outcomes.


Jennings, J. (2014, November 30). Teachers re-evaluate value of video games. In The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from

McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world. Penguin.