Friday, August 20, 2010

Lessons From the Game Culture for Education

The keyword for this article is: Experience

Used in a sentence: Learning should be an experience.

Too often, we define learning by objectives, assessments and due dates. The experience of learning can be described but not explained by statistics.

Instinct is that mysterious little place where your gut meets your mind for a long conversation. Through experience, we encode methodologies, comprehensions, and understanding in milliseconds that will unlock our natural instincts or life skills. What takes us hours to get when we read, takes only moments when we can experience the lesson.

Gaming theory, problem based learning, and inquiry based learning are all new fangled terminology for the basic notion of learning through experiences that pull on those dark and deep corners of our genetics to wrinkle our brains like a circuit board for survival; a deep learning data base that can save us when knowledge and its application become an instinct that hones and directs our reactions for optimal results.

We set our students up to fail, we break their notions of the world, and then ask them to take that understanding and re-experience the lesson. We ask them to remember what happened and apply it. We ask them to give us new insight because their point of origin in the lesson is different than ours. We build new lessons for our students and ourselves to test the idea. We keep the things that work, they keep the things that work.

As a high school student and as a college student my Friday and Saturday nights were usually spent curled up on a floor with dice in hand listening to a story, a puzzle, a simulation of life. I had to work with 5 or 6 different guys with different skills to achieve a goal. I became a leader, a problem solver, and eventually a story and puzzle giver myself. The prior is the cycle of student and teacher in a microcosm through 'safe' experience.

Don't get me wrong, playing a game, any game, has an experience that mimics real world dynamics. Group work, problem identification, research and team effort to achieve a solution are regular everyday tasks for a 'gamer'. Gamers are PBL compliant.

I spend most of my day absorbed in this or that technology trying to find things that will create experience for learners. However, these technologies, no matter how cool they are can still fail students if the instructor will not put their game face on and 'play'.

What I mean, is that we, as instructors, get too caught up in the business of teaching and learning that we fail to think outside the box to gain a new learner's attention. For example, a lecture is a wonderful building block that can be recorded and viewed later or given in real time. However, that lecture is not what teaches the student. The student learns when we put them in situations, real or simulated, that show them and ourselves the value of the application of the knowledge. Success and failure both are valuable. The instructor mediates the experience and then helps the student be more successful through pointing out what was missed or additional resources. Sometimes their classmates as peers are effective teachers as well. I think you get the point, experience is the heart of learning, it is the best teacher. Flat knowledge in books or lectures are leap points for learning, but activity is the key to success in the learning cycle.

When I played a game like Dungeons and Dragons, there were lots of things to read, tally, chart, and remember. All of those things I could recite in my sleep. But they did not matter and would have faded away if I hadn't needed to know them for my favorite Saturday night activity; survive a team members folly because he forgot the most basic of gaming rules, let sleeping trolls lie.

The same thing happens for our students.
FACT: C6H12O6 is simple sugar.
Yeh, what is your point?
Well . . . if you know the formula for simple sugar you can figure out how to lose weight. Try coding the formula backwards, and remember that your body is built to accept Carbon first in food. Now if your body doesn't think your backwards chain is food, what happens?

It is the application of the knowledge and the consequences of using or not using the knowledge that make it important to the student to remember. Experience is the best teacher.

Too bad some people have to wake that troll up a few times to learn that trolls are best left to their dreaming. Just kidding. (Maybe not.)

Gamers are better learners and teachers. They become good leaders. Gamers have honed their problem solving skills and decisive actions through practice in safe environments. Trolls exist in real life, too. I think I saw one at the store the other day actually. Teaching your students how to 'play' is the most important gift you can give them for success in their professions and personal lives.

I know I say it often, but the most important book for you as an educator to read this year is Wikinomics by Tapscot and Williams. If you want to understand the world your students will work in and how the skills gleaned in problem based learning translate to the real world, you must read that book! Web 2.0 is not some term to keep the masses down, it is the battle ground in which we can lift them up and abolish the digital divide. (That is a whole other article though, isn't it?)

Now, I have homework for you. Using the above information, how can you take a series of definitions, statistics, and flat knowledge to engage your students in a common experience to generate deep learning in a F2F (Face to Face) or Online course.

Send me your ideas and I will post the best ones next week!

Why this is important to you:
http://www.ed.gov/technology/netp-2010/learning-powered-technology

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