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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Gamification, How games make us better

I was one of 12,000 educators listening to keynoter Jan McGonigal speak about how gaming makes us better. Her neurological, physical and field research gives strong support to this method of learning. I've done much reading and listened to quite a few speakers present their findings. I have to say it has me strongly leaning to this approach.

The image below is an fMRI that shows the parts of the brain during interactive and passive exposure. According to  and perhaps contradictory to the stereotype of the gamer-as-slacker, fMRI brain imaging shows that interactive game play actually stimulates the parts of the brain - the caudate and thalamus - associated with reward and motivation, as well as the hippocampus, which is associated with learning and long-term memory.

Kids and adults alike do impressive things when you closely analyze what goes on in a complex video game. The player must fail, adapt, fail, adapt, learn, improve, increase hand/eye skills, keep a complex virtual world map in his/her memory. Many of the games are multiplayer and rely on the social interactions and help of others in order to succeed. Sound familiar? This is what we hope students are able to accomplish in the real world. One fascinating statistic shared by McGonigal was that "gamers" fail on average 80% of the time on their journey to mastery and yet are still motivated to keep at the tasks to master their game. 80%!! That is grit.

So, how to we apply that type of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, determination, grit and stick-to-itivness in formal education? One of my suggestions is to lessen the formal didactic model where students sit passively and absorb (if they're lucky) information. There is a place for that too, but it should NOT be the primary methodology. We should do more project-based learning where students tackle real, global or local issues and create solutions. The learning necessary to complete the project drives what they need to learn. If students are working on trying to bring potable water to an area that lacks it, then they need to learn about engineering, costs, transportation, communication, history and so forth.

School should be minimal on foundational courses. Kids in secondary and post-secondary schools should all work on problem-finding and problem-solving real-world, contemporary and future issues. Imagine a group of seniors who were able to feed a rural American town or provide clean drinking water to a remote Guatemalan village or improve safety equipment for healthcare workers....imagine.

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