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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