I often hear some variation of these two quotes coming from teachers and school administrators, and even parents:
"He can spend hours learning a video game, how come he can't do the same in school or with homework."
"He pays much more attention when he is interested in something."
Yes, these are "duh" quotes And these are part of a ridiculous, if typical, search for a way to demean children by pointing out that they are disappointing "you." But they are also symptomatic of why schools fail.
Schools fail because they do not connect learning to the learner. And schools fail because they have made the cost of a student's failure so high, that most students will simply not try. and all but a very few (the ones who would do fine without school) will choose to never "take a chance." And schools fail because they make student failure public and permanent, stopping students who otherwise might persist in their learning.
Why do kids learn video games so easily? Why do they persist in the task of learning the game far beyond anything they do in school?
I'm not here (right now) to talk about video games in education, that's a different idea. Instead I am, like James Gee, talking about what schools can learn from video game learning.
What do video games do?
The learning is self-directed. When a kid sits down in front of a video game he or she is in charge. They make the decisions in the game. They accept the consequences. They take breaks when they need to. They don't have to stop when a bell rings. They make themselves comfortable. They collaborate if they want and compete if they want.
There are no age-based grades in video games. It is fully accepted that a ten-year-old might be ahead of a 16-year-old on this game or that, and that the 16-year-old (or 30-year-old) can learn from the ten-year-old. In the world of video games all are teachers and all are learners.
There are multiple paths. Every good video game allows you choices, empowering the learner. The fastest route might not be the best route, or, at least, might be no better than others. You can choose different weapons, different strategies. How different than textbooks or the dreaded "middle school planner."
Speed of learning is never an issue. So it takes you five days to get through level five but only two to get through level six - no one cares. You are neither behind, nor ahead, you are doing it as you need to.
The learning begins with interest. Video games are (well, good ones) interesting. They are also varied. And learners choose what to play. They (for the most part) might be teaching the same things, but you enter through your interests - cars, spies, World War II, wild fantasy worlds. "He pays much more attention when he is interested in something." Duh. Don't we all? (Funny, I can do sports statistics and had no problems with architectural engineering courses, but totally struggle with academic maths and statistics - there are paths of interest, and there's the route to boredom.)
Video game learners collaborate and scaffold each other. "Let me show you." "Here's how you do this." There is an amazing amount of peer-tutoring in person and online. In school, of course, we usually call this "cheating."
Failure can be private. The video game does not call on you to publicly humiliate you. You can be public or private as you choose. Thus practice "costs" much less in social terms.
Failure has almost no cost. What's the worst thing that can happen? You die, either dramatically or in a cool explosion. The game doesn't send a note home or call your parents. The game doesn't yell at you or separate you from your friends. When the cost of failure is low, humans are willing to try again. Raise the cost, and people stop trying. Example, you try to climb a fence and fall, getting a scratch: You'll try again. You try to climb the fence and get a massive electrical shock: You won't try again. Simple psychology. If Edison had tried to develop the light bulb in school, he would have been labelled a failure after the first 50 filament failures, and we might still be lighting gaslights.
In other words, learning in video games is opposite - in almost every way - learning in the traditional school. So, if students are learning, and persistently working on learning, with their games but not in your school, you might want to spend some time considering why this is.
- Ira Socol
- About Ira David Socol
- Freedom Stick and Firefox Accessibility
- The Change.Org Posts
- IdeaChat 11 February 2012
- Counting the Origins of Failure
- Technology: The Wrong Questions and the Right Questions
- Today's "School Reformers" vs Real Change for Education - I
- Today’s “School Reformers” vs Real Change for Education - II
- The Toolbelt and Universal Design - Education For Everyone
- "Evaluate that!" - Schools for Children