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Learning with Games? Start with a Verb

Posted by Colin Klupiec on April 9, 2014 at 4:40 PM

“More engaging, immersive eLearning is more than “fancier window dressing for content”; it is a transformation of assumptions about what it means to think, learn and teach.” (Squire, 2013)

I read this quote in a research paper investigating the changing thinking on games based learning (GBL). What struck me as interesting in this paper was the notion that games based learning was less about content, and more about the experience of the learner. Squire talks about stimulating new ways of thinking, acting and being in the world. His comment about window dressing are not surprising either, as most online learning resources are simply digitized versions of paper based resources.GBL presents an interesting problem for teaching and learning in the modern school. Kids love playing games, and the increased use of computers and tablets in schools makes the presence of computer games a tantalizing distraction for students. In some of my recent discussions about iPads in schools with teachers, the overwhelming majority state that the iPad can be a major distraction in the classroom. The complaint is that the kids just want to play games all the time. Some teachers have even reported that they’ve told their students to put the iPads away, or that they only allow the students to use them at certain times for certain purposes. This is extraordinary, given the hype and money spent on devices.

The author of the paper recalls a comment made by games creator Shigeru Miyamoto. You probably haven’t heard of him, but you’ve probably heard of his famous Mario game. Miyamoto said that he always liked to start the development process by thinking of verbs. In other words, doing something. Squire notes that the most likely thing that participants in an eLearning environment can do is to “read and look; if the person is lucky, maybe chat.” These are of course verbs, but the implication is that you could be doing a whole lot more. The argument is that games can take you into that immersive environment in a way that reading, looking and chatting can’t.

This is a fascinating insight. If you watch people play computer games, they are invariably doing something. It could be driving a car, flying a plane, fighting the enemy, searching for treasure or just about anything these days. But the interesting thing is that the person is engaged in doing something, albeit a virtualized version of it. A further implication is that the person playing the game comes away with an outcome, rather than just knowing more about something. In other words, they did something.

Given the growth in games popularity and the proliferation of devices in learning and working environments, it may be useful to ponder the motivation of those you are observing before deciding that games are perhaps too much of a distraction. If your students (or employees for that matter) are busy playing a game when they should be ‘doing’ something else, it might be helpful to ask what it is they are actually doing and why. Better still, it would be good to ask what they are in fact trying to do. What job are they trying to get done? How is the game helping them? Answers to these questions could provide valuable insight into improving the learning experience.

Can we transform our assumptions of what it means to think, learn and teach? I’d suggest it’s worth ‘doing’.

Colin Klupiec

Squire, K. D. (2013). Video Game-Based Learning: An Emerging Paradigm for Instruction. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 26(1), 101-130. doi: 10.1002/piq.21139

Topics: eLearning

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