I read Julie Brink's recent article on Game-based Learning for the Corporate World, and I just wanted to add to what I think Julie was trying to do - which is promote game0based learning as a viable and powerful option. This post is in no way intended to be snarky or derisive and I'm actually thankful to Julie for getting me off my butt and actually spitting out something on a topic I really believe in.
I'm perfectly in line with what I think the goal of this article is..to convince people that games represent a powerful medium for learning in a range of environments, including the corporate sphere. You bet. Spot on. Couldn't agree more. The article however falls into some predictable traps that even supporters trigger and that actually end up weakening the very case they seek to make.
The very first listing of games, Yahtzee, Monopoly, Scrabble...immediately goes to a popular sort of game but what about Chess? Go? Games that have been around for centuries; or even making the point with games like poker and lacrosse and bowling - that games are games and that people need to get past this bias of the "gamer" name only referring to computer/console games.
The stats on the growth of the gaming market and the changing demographic of gamers is also interesting but I think of more interest to folks in the corporate space would be some admittedly dated stats now from Beck & Wade's 2004 book, Got Game? How the Gamer Generation is reshaping business forever:
- The gaming generation makes up 90 million individuals from the US alone.
- Approximately 56 million of these individuals are already saturating the workforce, from employees to upper management positions.
- About 12% are said to be managers already.
- In 2003, around 92% of kids age 2 through 17 in the United States access games on a daily basis.Of this 92%, only 80% are know to have home computers or some form of Internet access.
Beck and Wade also make some really interesting points about this "gamer generation;" for example that gamers believe that winning matters (counter to the stereotypical slacker image), that they place a high value on competence-on the being the expert, that they are risk takers and believers in open communication and creative problem solving. These kind of points I think loom very large (or should) in the minds of corporate trainers who think they will just be able to provide the same old training to a generation raised on games - but I know we were talking about games as learning vehicles and not as bifurcators of generations. So let's get into comparing "gaming" to e-learning.
First, comparing "gaming" to "traditional e-learning" is at best an apples to oranges comparison. Games require absolutely no technology. The dynamics that are inherent in games, including learning (see Raph Koster in Theory of Fun, Johan Huizinga in Homo Ludens, or Man, Play and Games by Roger Caillois for some background on the rich history of humankind and games), are in games played purely with human bodies and imagination as they are in games that require the absolute latest in computer hardware and broadband connections. e-Learning is by definition a technologically mediated delivery mechanism...its not even a stand-alone set of principles
On the theoretical front, we really need to get Skinner out of there. As one accessible example, if you read Donald Clark's recent post on Skinner (part of Donald's amazing learning theorists marathon) if really a weak frontman for the power of game-based learning and really makes it seem as nothing much deeper than stimulus-response is at work and that games are somehow graphically enhanced Skinner boxes. There are any number of better advocates for the power of game-based learning but two that leap to mind are James Paul Gee (eg What Video Games Can teach Us About Learning and Literacy) and David Williamson Shaffer (How Computer Games Help Children Learn and his work on pedagogical praxis) leap to mind...along with Eric Zimmerman, Katie Salen, and a host of others...the point being, there is an incredibly rich and growing body of work focused specifically on the power of games as mechanisms for creating incredibly rich opportunities...we should probably just leave Skinner to his mice.
The authors about can also make the point better than I as to the differences between designing games for learning or training purposes and designing e-learning. The short answer is however that the gulf is enormous. Game design is a whole other skill set that starts from a different place theoretically and is informed by a radically different view of the user/learner/player than is e-learning design. Read Theory of Fun by Koster - very accessible and probably the single best explanation of how game design enshrines learning in a way that traditional ISD does not.
The topic of when games are not the best tool is also a logical and valid point for discussion but hardly for the reasons mentioned in the article. Games are great at parsing out large amounts of information is contexts that actually allow people to remember it. Think back, how did you learn your alphabet? Numbers? Huge amounts of very basic data was transmitted either through games or play (which are related but are not the same)....games, I'd argue are actually much better vehicles than the NEXT BUTTON for transmitting data...it all comes down to design. As to the question of whether some content is to sensitive or personal to be played in game - depends on I think, if you really want to deal with the topic or just check the box. Let's look at some:
- Darfur is Dying: a game that teaches about the horror of genocide
- Foor Force: a game that teaches about famine relief
- Fat World: a game that teaches about nutrition and obesity
There are examples after examples of incredibly personal topics being taught with sensitivity and care via games. I'd argue again that games can provide a richer, more nuanced context to these sensitive topics than traditional learning.
I think I've already touched on the demographics of the gaming population above and that's a great point - I'd argue again that we need to make that point relative to gaming in general and not act like all "gaming" is a video game.
The cost front is also a moving target. The basic truth is that you can spend as little or as much as you want to build a game but by no means will price ensure quality; only good design will do that. My recommednation and its one that people have heard me make before, is head over to Kongregate. All the games there (as of 5/15/2010 there were 57,000 free games) are all built on Flash and represent an incredible array of designs and game elements that will give you a broader perspective on the possibilities - of course that means you'll have to play a lot of games. Sorry. ;-)
I also just want to ask, where is the point about the social aspect of gaming? That aspect is the one driving everything from Farmville to the new wave of 'gamification'...this is actually a key dynamic that has been granted new import due to the scale and reach afforded by technology - this aspect is one that could be particularly powerful in a globally dispersed yet integrated community like a corporation.
In closing (finally right?), thanks to Julie for writing her article or else I wouldn't have written this one and I like being reminded of the power of games to inspire and teach and I hope this post is taken in the spirit intended; one of amplification and pushing forward and not argumentative or snarky.