4 critical ingredients to engage the gen-gamer

In preparation for a first Games Based Learning day at Macquarie University (24/10/2010), I’ve started to flush out some of the ingredients that are built into World or Warcraft, that make it an almost ideal learning environment.

Firstly, let me say that I don’t believe Blooms taxonomy works in 2010, as well as it might in the latter part of the last century. Mt view is that game designers build for understanding, not knowledge – which creates the advantage that the learning process is not locked to content, but independent. To me, this is partly why kids can jump from one game to another so easily.

So back up a step and look at these four ingredients that you find inside World of Warcraft (and other games).

As you read though, mentally swap out the terms for more schooly ones like student, lesson, activity.

When I think about ‘teaching and learning’ in the context of ‘game based learning’ – I am not thinking of Halo, Warcraft, Nintendogs – but what taxonomy and strategies are being used in order to keep players engaged and working harder on their understanding. I argue that you can use this in non-game lessons more effectively that using Blooms (big call) – in developing understanding though engagement. If for example I was teaching elementary (primary), I’d be looking hard at Moshi Monsters to teach maths, english, civics etc – because I also believe in ‘blended learning’.

Critical elements in Game Based Learning Design

1. Authentic tasks
Instruction designed around authentic tasks help players become fully engaged in learning and developing an understanding of content. A quest is an authentic task – it allows you to learn about the game, the factions, the lore and the skills needed to complete the next. No tasks in the game are pointless.

2. Opportunities to build cognitive strategies
Basic skills such as organising, finding to higher level skills like breaking down a problem into its element  through explicit instruction or by modeling and encouraging use of these strategies within instance, arena or battleground.

3. Learning that is socially mediated

  • learning and understanding are enhanced when players interact constructively with each another in building, integrating and testing new knowledge. Social games ensure shared ownership of the learning activity (quest is assigned to a player shared to a group)
  • players make their thinking visible to each other through visual representations or dramatization (emotes, low-intimacy chat, gestures); and
  • players solve problems that allow for a range of talents, skills and abilities (things that Paladins are good at, things that Warlocks are good at). Social-signals are developed. For example “r?” means – “we are ready to play, as means of leadership communication” – the response “r” is agreement with that, where as “kk” means, yes – just get on with it.

4. Engagement in constructive conversation
Players engage in constructive conversation. They are able to express their own ideas and questions and listen to and integrate the perspectives of others into their own thinking. Constructive conversation by maintaining a focus on a theme, allowing time for significant discussion, and responding thoughtfully to other players. An example of this is in group play. A new player will declare they are ‘learning to tankand will receive advice from other players on their performance and improving it.

These four elements, when wired into a ‘leveling‘ taxonomy and sequence of activities, I argue will work better for a generation growing up online. It’s facile to argue otherwise. Mr Blooms might just have had his day – regardless of how teachers might feel about it.


2 thoughts on “4 critical ingredients to engage the gen-gamer

  1. I’m really trying to work some gaming elements into my new SBG scheme. Right now I’m trying to create a list of ‘achievements’ (e.g., Learning FTW: take a major standard from 1 to 4). I’d love to hear what you all can come up with – the funnier the better.

  2. Dear Dan,

    Great to suggest that as a Primary teacher you would use Moshi Monsters but how would you use this environment to teach maths and English when so much of the cirriculum is linked to outcomes. Maybe you could suggest a few ways to use monsters in the classroom in future blog posts.

    Thanks for always writing actively and regularly,


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