Learning How to Learn with Games
“It turns out video games are just a Trojan horse for studying interest-driven learning” – Constance Steinkeuhler
Now here’s an ironic twist: for all those decades in which academia has been demonizing video games by claiming its taking time away from teenage reading, it now turns out gaming has become one of the main catalysts for teenage reading in boys.
I’m not referring to text inside the games nor am I suggesting gamifying reading with points, badges and leaderboards either. I’m saying teenage boys involved in complex games called Massively Multiplayer Online games are taking time aside from their game play to spend hour’s deeply analyzing and creating texts whose difficulty was rated to be college level or higher by experts. Reading and writing are back!
I’ll explain how this works:
All games at their core are about problem solving.
In order to better solve these problems they must increase their knowledge. Knowledge becomes a resource. The more you know the better you perform. This also creates social status in the game which becomes an emotional driver learn.
In order to increase their knowledge they must read the online communities that surround the game.
Constance Steinkeuhler holds a PhD in literary studies and ran a 2 year after school program with teenage boys. These kids were between 2 to 5 years below their grades reading level and she intended to use the game World of Warcraft to engage students into reading. The first month she discovered something: The theme of the text had no effect on their reading level, as Gabe Zichermann has mentioned before: It’s the mechanics, not the theme that makes something fun. She gave the students a school textbook and a game based text and there was no comprehension difference between them.
Constance learns from her mistake and tries a new approach. She asks the students to tell her of 3 problems they’re facing in the game, and then she goes out with her staff and explores the actual online game communities and pick the hardest texts they can find on solving these problems. These texts where analyzed to be at least 12 grade reading level or higher, so they’re harder than newspapers, magazines, etc. What she discovered was that their comprehension rate was now perfect.
This didn’t come from prior knowledge, meaning they didn’t understand the text because they know more about the game then school subjects. They encountered the same problems in their school texts but what happened is that they were interested in knowing the subject, they engaged in the text deeply and auto-corrected their own mistakes. What made the difference in engagement was the student’s choice in the subject. Here’s a simple illustration explaining this new game based method of learning by John Seely Brown:
We must state a simple fact here: most knowledge on average becomes obsolete after 5 years or less. What these kids are doing in complicated games like World or Warcraft is learning how to learn. Through these games kids are learning critical thinking skills by analyzing the contexts of these game based texts. Social skills by discussing and creating new ideas with their peers. Finally implementing these ideas as a collective trying to solve complicated social and technical problems. These are the skills needed for the 21st century!
Traditional schooling was based in passing down content that would help you cope with a predictable and stable world. Our world is now uncertain with novel problems constantly arising. This model of exclusively content transfer is now obsolete, as John Seely Brown explains: We now need students to have a disposition for questioning, communicating, reflecting and playing. This can’t be thought, but it can be cultivated in learning ecologies supported by new media and games. The 20th century was the age of the Homo sapines (human who knows); our century will be ruled by homo ludens (human who plays)!
Cover Image by brungrrl