Designing Learning like Game Designers

How do we create engaged, interest powered, deep learning tasks for our students?  To reflect on this, we need to ask ourselves what do we know about the learner of today? Who is on the end of the learning tasks that we design? Much of student learning happens outside the classroom; through social media and gaming. How do we leverage gaming (intrinsic qualities) to design meaningful, connected and relevant tasks?

According to Katie Salen (Executive Director, Institute of Play), first we need to think of the intrinsic qualities of games. Game designers develop an overall mission (problem) in complex, challenge based contexts. The overall mission is designed around smaller challenges that need to be mastered to ‘win’ the overall mission. Remember, gamers are in charge of their own learning (with peer supports, collaboration, and by having pertinent information embedded in the game, as needed) to successfully complete smaller challenges. They need to be able to constantly adapt and think abstractly. They need to be able to try, and fail, and try again. Sound like critical skills needed for our students to be successful in the future? You bet.

Maybe we do need a shift in instructional design. By moving away from structured and predetermined planning that ensures that students are given instruction/practice/assessment,  to designing learning that is more organic, adaptive and freeform.  From learning that provides information to students that (we ascertain) they will need to know at some point in their lives, to learning that is designed for students to learn specific skills that are needed when they are needed to complete the challenge. Relevant, challenging, interest powered, and connected learning. Principles that game designers focus on – that can easily be embedded into the classroom and a design for learning:

1. Create the need to know

2. Offer a space of possibility

3. Build opportunities for authority and the expertise to be shared

4. Support multiple, overlapping pathways towards mastery

What are some of the possibilities to think like a game designer when we design learning? First, select an KSA out of Program of Studies. Next, create a need to know by organizing learning around solving problems in complex learning environments that we can drop students into. Problems that students must solve to ‘win,’ without loading them up with information you think they will need. One of the great quality of Games is the tension between the challenge – and the embedded tools to get there. Gamers adapt and learn as they go. By providing opportunities for peer collaboration, access to relevant information and resources as needed, and knowledge sharing, students can develop skills required to be successful in the 21st Century.

For a great example of using the best qualities of gaming (and some of the failures) watch Biology teacher, Paul Andersen’s TedXBozeman talk:

Arizona State University professor, James Paul Gee further discusses the potential of using game design with designing learning for students. He reflects on the notion of assessment by comparing the completion of the game “Halo” to the completion of an algebra course. He asks the question, “Would you give a kid, who completed ‘Halo’ a test to see if he learned what he needed to?” But as James remarks, we do this with Algebra. This notion embodies the trust in the design and learning better with the game, than with the Algebra lesson. The game already tested the student, and games do not separate learning and assessment. Failure is also a regular part of the learning of the game, and the game gives space to fail. Yet the nature of the game itself is designed for success of the Gamer.

“What I’m pushing is really not digital media,” James clarifies. “it’s what I call ‘situated and embodied learning.’ And what I mean by that is being able to solve problems with what you know, not just know a bunch of inert facts. but be able to use facts and information as tools for problem solving in specific contexts.”

What we need is to break through the social mind set that games are just leisure activities and a waste of time – to leverage intrinsic qualities of game design into our curriculum design; one that embodies complex systems and relevant learning experiences that are problem focused, and in which failure is a part of learning.

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