Another dot in the blogosphere?

Not game-based learning

Posted on: September 17, 2013

Ask the average teacher how s/he implements game-based learning and you might hear a description something like this. The “games”:

  • are not designed by them but by a vendor of an LMS or CMS.
  • are colourful to “attract” or “engage” the learner.
  • might look like the screenshot below.

None of these factors make the learner’s experience one of gaming nor is the activity designed around authentic game-based learning principles.

When my son did his vacation homework recently, this “game” told him that his dog was trapped in a burning house. He had to rescue his pet by answering questions about fractions.

What is wrong here?

The designer of the activity hung the threat of the dog dying in a fire as a disincentive. Just as gamers do not like being made to play, you do not guilt a learner into learning.

The task (solving fractions) had nothing to do with putting out the fire or rescuing the dog. This was thinly veiled, more colourful drill-and-practice. The task was not authentic. I offer our proof-of-concept mobile game, Dollar Dash, as an example of a more authentic design.

When my son completed the exercise and saved the dog, both my son and I wondered what the graphic would have been like if the dog died in the fire. A gamer would explore that outcome because there are no adverse consequences. However, this experience is designed largely with one outcome in mind, not several.

Experiences like this “hotdog drill” create a wrong impression of how educational technologies can help learners, and worse, perpetuate this sort of thinking.

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