There’s a cycle to games that reflects Kolb’s learning styles. He’s the guy who talks about experiential learning, and that learning happens even when there is no teacher around. You might see this in action whenever you see a kids huddle around a computer game. You might have also noticed that even though only one is actually playing, the others are actively watching. This is what Kolb calls active observation. You might then have seen kids wade in with tips, pointing at the screen or calling out ideas and instructions to the player. This is them thinking, or what Kolb calls abstract conceptualisation. They are predicting what will happen next much of the time. Eventually all this leads to doing, or rather active experimentation leading to feelings – excitement, disappointment – being in the zone or boredom. This is where games close the loop, by providing concrete experiences.
To be good at a modern game requires kids to acquire declarative, procedural and strategic knowledge. Kids will often be hurtling around this loop often unaware of the process. There is a generation gap of technical knowledge with teachers rarely playing of even having knowledge of games. What games do very well is place kids in recursive loops that promote persistent re-engagement and meta-cognition. Whether a game is single, multi or massively multiplayer, as soon as more than one kid is present, these learning loops are engaged, but not synchronous. As one is doing, the other is watching etc., Now multiply that by 12 million players, all working to increase their knowledge and skill of the game at different rates, and we have a highly complex social learning design.
Teachers are trained in traditional methods that do not include the use of games in the curriculum. Only researchers and a few innovative teachers have embraced video games for learning beyond ‘elearning games’. Students are being training to learn in very fast cycles, and are well able to phase their own learning cycle with other players – and spectators in order to improve their performance. In fact, learning though a game would not work if every advanced in sync with each other. When we compare this to the way most adults learned about technology – though step by step training and follow the leader tutorials it is very different – however, classroom activities are often exactly like this – as students advance as a mass, rather than as individuals – which results in a tempo for learning that is often very pedestrian and linear.
This isn’t to say teachers are not interested. Numerous reports by organisations such as FutureLab report high numbers of students and teachers interested in game based learning, but not necessarily (as many are) for the purpose of research. It seems to me, that the advent of social media, and teachers forming personal learning networks is that teachers are exposed more and more to affective learning methods using Twitter, Facebook etc., If you revisit Kolb’s cycle, it’s not too hard to see the cycle in personal learning networks.
However, don’t be fooled by gamification or games based learning. Badges and tokens won’t change motivation or intent in schools very much in my view – unless the method is designed – from the outset using game-theory, complete with actors, narrative, fantasy (and room for error and conflicting ideas). Training teachers to recognise what an experiential learning cycle looks like, and how effective affective learning can be using the full range of tools on offer today seem more important than teaching them yet more ‘skills’, as no matter what tool they learn – if it’s not used in a way that resonates with kids who are – as they say – growing up digital, no ICT will engage and re-engage them over and over the way games do.
So why not make learning fun – it doesn’t mean the teacher won’t play a crucial (exhilarating role) in achieving the learning outcomes, be it declarative, affective – it just means we fundamentally need to training teachers to think in cycles that reflect the digital-age-tempo. You don’t even need a video-game to do this – you classroom is more than capable of being a game-world, and students players. It’s a mindset, not a console issue – but it’s not something anyone’s going to do well, without having a clear vision, roadmap and passion to do it – unless you’re in the games industry of course.