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Five more lessons from Minecraft

Posted on: December 26, 2015

Terry Heick shared five things Minecraft can teach us about pedagogy.

I share and suggest five more.

1. Play is powerful
Play is the most instinctive way we learn and it is not wrong to have fun. The problem is that school teaches us otherwise. Both adults and kids need to unlearn that we stop playing as we get older.

2. Not starting with objectives, not ending with assessments
The objectives and outcomes in Minecraft are not fixed. The player defines his or her own. While objectives and outcomes can be set by someone else other than the player, this might be an obstacle to learning about, with, and from the game.

Learning is not always a function or result of teaching. It does not have to start with a teacher’s objectives, nor must it always end with a traditional assessment. Authentic problems are defined and solved by people and players. They define outcomes and they determine success or failure.

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Game-based learning guru, James Paul Gee, is fond of pointing out that games flip the instructional process by putting tests or assessments first. The problems (not the objectives) define learning needs and the learners fill these needs with the help of more knowledgeable others.

3. Just-in-time and just-for-me learning
Learning without restrictive, externally-imposed objectives is more natural because the player defines what is important or meaningful. The processes of play include problem-seeking, learning on-the-run, and problem-solving.

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For example, when trying to figure out how to tame a horse (the outcome), a player might seek game forums, Minecraft wikis, YouTube videos, or each other as sources of information (the content). The evidence is a tamed, rideable horse that does not escape (the evidence of learning, a key purpose of assessment).

4. Curriculum agnostic
Minecraft has been used to teach an assortment of academic subjects simply because it is not designed for any particular one.

The best educational technologies are content and curriculum neutral. They are blank slates, extremely flexible tools, or regularly used instruments with which both teachers and students can create.

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5. Communicating and collaborating in context
Even though Minecraft does not favour any particular content area, it provides context for the expression of issues and ideas for them. That is why it is often described as being LEGO-like or a sandbox.

Expression by creating with bricks or shaping with sand can be by an individual or a group. The power of Minecraft is that it enables both. But if you think that what individuals create is amazing, then collaborative efforts will floor you.

Any good game can be used for game-based learning as long as teachers realise that content is not the end in itself. Content is not king and it is a means to ends.

Context is king and where content is applied. It is then evaluated, reused, revised, or discarded. That is how the world works because that is how our brains work. To deny that is to deny reality and a more meaningful and powerful way to learn.

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