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Posts Tagged ‘learning

Consider this question:

Here are some of my answers:

Because things have always been done that way.

Because we know no other way.

Because we think we know better.

Because you have to sit for tests that we put in your life that do not have much to do with your life.

These are very weak answers.

The tweeted question is a Googleable one and others have tried answering it in other ways. There are mathematical answers and classical logic answers.

But all those answers miss the point of the question. The point is critical perspective-taking.

Video source

Like BuzzFeed, a SourceFed video is not the best source for the benefits of game-based learning. Such videos are high on entertainment and brevity, low on balance and depth.

But SourceFed is a step ahead of most local rags in that they provide convenient links to their sources in the description. You can read, direct your own learning, and make up your own mind.

Folks who follow the development of game-based learning will not find much to be new. But those unfamiliar with this practice might unearth a gold mine of information.

Scour the Internet for “21st century learning” and you are more likely to find examples of 18th century teaching instead. Some of these examples slap technology skins over old content delivery bodies.

leap of faith by neil1877, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  neil1877 

I found a good example of what 21st century learning might look like from an unexpected source: LifeHacker.

The main points of the article were:

  • Focusing on just-in-time (JIT) learning
  • Determining your minimum effective dose (MED)
  • Prioritizing depth over breadth
  • Connecting with experienced others
  • Making learning authentic
  • Creating your own opportunities

While these examples were described in an adult learning context*, there is no reason not to apply these to other forms of learning and levels of learners.

After all, we have social, open, and mobile technologies that already allow us to do all these things. The preparatory, just-in-case schooling kids receive can be compressed or shortened to allow actual 21st century learning to happen.

*Those that prefer a K-12 perspective should read this MindShift article. Spoiler: The 21st century learning is not about futuristic technology or even pedagogy on steroids. It is about trust and digital citizenship.

Video source

This video by Hank Green highlights a finding in research that a more effective way to learn is to teach.

Researchers tested the effect of students being told to teach content vs being told that they would sit for a test. However, all the students (including the ones told to teach) were tested. What were the results?

Participants expecting to teach produced more complete and better orga- nized free recall of the passage (Experiment 1) and, in general, correctly answered more questions about the passage than did participants expecting a test (Experiment 1), particularly questions covering main points (Experiment 2), consistent with their having engaged in more effective learning strategies.

However, the study seemed to stop short of recommending that students actually teach to learn better.

I know this teach-to-learn strategy works because this is how I conduct my courses and workshops. But do not take my word for it.

The serendipitous publishing of a MindShift article on students teaching other students sheds some light on the why this works.


  • can find ways to make the content more relevant and exciting
  • are more creative with relating concepts or ideas
  • are closer to the “a-ha” moments and reach their peers in a more visceral way

I have also reflected on at least two other occasions on why teaching to learn is effective.

In writing about my second dimension of flipped learning, I mentioned how teaching requires learners to practice content delivery and to be active sense-makers.

Learning Pyramid by dkuropatwa, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  dkuropatwa 

When I shared the learning pyramid and justified my three dimensions of flipped learning, I mentioned how teaching was a process of cyclic processing, reprocessing, and reflection that honed a teacher’s internalization and treatment of content.

I had a conversation with an English teacher recently. When I asked her to describe her students (all boys in a local Primary school), she mentioned something I hear all the time: They will not sit and listen; they would rather be learning actively.

Video source

She also mentioned two more things. The boys loved playing Minecraft (hence the embedded video above) and the older ones (11 to 12 year-olds) liked creating YouTube videos.

The teacher also described her students as being able to speak English well, but not write it well. Given how most schools require students to write, I am not surprised.

For example, my son is still given dead tree instructions to write an essay about an incident among kids playing hopscotch. How many kids actually play hopscotch? What could be more relevant to learners?

If teachers are to answer these questions and change the way they teach, they must reach out to kids and start from where the kids are.

How might teachers be more relevant while meeting curricular and assessment targets?

They could leverage on what the kids are interested in or passionate about. The teacher I spoke to could ask her students to write about Minecraft or to draft scripts for a video.

Such writing is not designed for a bubble like the classroom. The write up could be a walkthrough to be shared in a blog or a gaming forum. The script could be for a YouTube video to be put online.

These are examples of authentic learning. The task is real in the world of the learner and the learners have real audiences who will invariably give them really honest feedback.

This approach creates the need to learn. An audience of many (video game players and video watchers) instead of just one (the teacher) creates the need to learn how to write clearly and concisely. Novice writers will want to learn how to structure their sentences properly and to use appropriate vocabulary.

For teaching to be relevant and learning to be meaningful, teachers must first reach out and understand their learners. Then only can they create that yearning for learning.


edX CEO Anant Agarwal shared a statistic at the beginning of his TED talk. About 155,000 people took an edX course offered by MIT. This number was larger than the entire alumni of MIT in its 150 year history.

But MOOC reach was not what Agarwal wanted to highlight. Instead, he described how experiments in MOOCs were informing university faculty on:

  • Going where the learner is at (online, mobile)
  • Designing blended and flipped lessons
  • Promoting active learning by designing interactive and self-paced lessons
  • Providing instant feedback
  • Leveraging on social learning
  • Getting students to learn by encouraging them to teach

In other words, relevant and progressive pedagogy.

First, some context.

When I integrate video games in my courses or workshops, I do so not to deliver content but to provide participants with shared experiences from which to generate discussion, critique, and reflection.

I can use the same games for topics as diverse as self-directed learning, collaborative learning, mobile learning, video game-based learning, and change management.

Video source

While I can model this process of video game-based learning (vGBL), I realize it is very difficult for others to emulate because I have made the process uniquely mine.

This got me thinking about the possible categories or levels of vGBL. The taxonomy I am about to suggest is no way sequential or prescriptive, but there is an inherent value system.

I may add to or subtract from my framework in future. For now, there are four types of vGBL: 1) backward, 2) basic, 3) intermediate, and 4) advanced.

A harmful implementation of vGBL is drill-and-practice disguised as video games.

These sorts of games often require students to apply a fixed set of rules repeatedly for game rewards. These rewards have nothing to do with the content mastery and focus on extrinsic motivation instead.

For example, if the student gets an arithmetic problem right, a racing car moves forward or a squirrel gets a nut. This is similar to giving a child a sweet every time you tell them to be polite. They do not learn why it is important to be polite; they learn they get rewarded for doing something.

This sort of implementation perpetuates the wrong idea of vGBL and gives vGBL a bad name.

To dissuade teachers from adopting this strategy, I get them to experience drill-and-practise “gaming” from a learner’s point of view. When they reflect on how boring it is, I ask them how their students feel. It is a powerful lesson in taking a learner’s perspective.

Mention vGBL and most teachers think about how video games might be used to motivate their learners and/or teach content in their classrooms.

While there are some great games that might do these, this approach is potentially harmful and not sustainable in the long run.

Using games to motivate is one possible reaction to needing to teach content that is boring. To borrow a phrase from other thought leaders on GBL, this is like getting kids to eat chocolate-covered broccoli.

However, gaming merely to motivate is like applying a superficial bandage to a deep-seated injury. It does not address why there is a disconnect between teaching and learning.

Video games worth learning from are also costly. They take a long time to create and cost a lot of money. Given their development time, they also run the risk of being irrelevant by the time they are ready.

It is unlikely that teachers will find a game that addresses their context, scheme of work, or administrative standard. There will invariably be some social or pedagogical customization.

When teachers take parts of video game experiences and integrate them into their lessons, they breach the level of intermediate vGBL. They may start to operate outside the boundaries of what the game was designed to do.

One teacher might use a game like Civilization to teach historical principles. Another might use Angry Birds to seed a discussion on terrorism (watch this short segment in my TEDx talk).

Video source

Yet another form of intermediate vGBL is taking advantage of mobile and location-aware games outside the classroom. This MindShift article is a good example of what I mean.

I should add that the mobile-assisted “learning journeys” that some schools here put students through are neither location game-based nor learning-oriented in their implementation.

This form of vGBL is like design thinking.

Teachers might experience games and then deconstruct them to identify what makes them effective. I do this in my workshops by asking participants this question: How might you incorporate game-based learning without playing games in class?

Elements that emerge from effective vGBL like failing forward or just-in-time/just-for-me learning are principles that I draw out from workshop participants. Then I challenge them to integrate one or more principles into their teaching.

This form of vGBL is challenging. If participants are teachers, advanced vGBL focuses on challenging, changing, or improving pedagogy. If advanced vGBL is designed for students, the focus is higher order thinking skills, metacognition, or value systems. Game play and content is almost secondary and a means to those ends.

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