In Justin Peters’ article in Slate “World of Borecraft”, he bemoans the earliest examples of game-based learning. Remember Reader Rabbit? How about Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing? Let’s face it. They may have been goofy, but these applications were the earliest examples of eLearning design. Back in the 1980s, these pioneers were out there trying to lure eyeballs away from the TV and turn the computer into a teacher.
Okay, so the results were imperfect, from a games standpoint. No matter how many of those little bugs you managed to keep off your windshield by madly typing away, Peters contends that these “games” just weren’t that much fun. He asserts that given an alternative, kids would Alt-Tab over to their first-person shoot-em-up game in a heart beat. And I have no doubt that he’s right.
As an educator, I too realize that some of my students would probably rather be watching the latest episode of the Spiderman saga or playing Halo than take my online Flash-based Humanities course. No matter how many cool eLearning games I build on Greek art and architecture, let’s face it, if you’re not into the Parthenon, those games are just more bugs hitting the windshield.
So should eLearning strive to compete against these commercial games? I contend that no matter what we do in eLearning design, a game will not teach, by itself. There needs to be some level of intellectual curiosity on the part of the learner. But the eLearning designer needs to earn this intellectual curiosity. How? Certainly, leveraging game theory and popular game design can help a great deal. I can recall when I began to teach writing in a computer lab, asking the students to turn off their computers before I began to teach. Why? Because more than once, I caught them playing solitaire while I was lecturing.
Since those early days, I’ve moved to a blended environment. Now, when we meet in the lab, I’ll often catch my students playing my Flash drag and drop games. And they’ll react just as sheepishly, as if they’ve been caught playing solitaire!
There are a lot of distractions to education. But if we can use game-based learning and game play strategies, we can hopefully better engage the learner throughout the eLearning experience. If they’re engaged, maybe they’ll be more receptive to the content, and maybe more learning can occur. So I think games can teach eLearning designers a lot.
One thing that Peters is right about. Today, we’re up against some steep competition, not just from Hollywood anymore, but from Electronic Arts. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
If you’d like to learn about game based learning from Digitec Interactive, visit our eLearning page.
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