Today is Day 4 of my week-long series related to gaming, cognition, and education. Remember that I am approaching this issue with the following question in mind: Why is it that kids who can't sit still in class for five minutes can be mentally locked in for hours at home playing video games? If you're new to this series, check out the previous posts:

My guide for this series is Dr. Jim Gee at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, author of What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. Today's topics are multiple routes to success, contextualized meaning, and multimodal learning.

10. Video games allow learners to follow their own paths

There is more than one path to success in most role-playing video games. The path that some players follow, or the choices that they make, can be different than the paths and choices of others and yet still lead to the next level. Those paths may take longer, or some choices may be better, but eventually each player gets to the next stage. By playing and replaying levels repeatedly in ways that are not boring, players can revise and refine their paths to success. Video games allow for individualized learning toward common outcomes.

11. Gamers make meaning within embodied experiences

Because video games have the capacity to create complex, experiential simulations, participants' learning is situated within learning environments that are fairly authentic, at least within the paradigm of the game framework. In other words, learning is not decontextualized, like a multiple choice item or writing prompt might be, but instead is rooted within the ongoing development of the skills, knowledge, and behaviors necessary to be successful in the game environment. For example, instead of reading about a blacksmith or watching a video about a blacksmith, gamers learn by actually being blacksmiths. Participants' understanding is thus deeper because it is embodied within simulated (and often very real) experiences.

12. Learning in video games is multimodal

Most educators know about the theories of multiple intelligences and learning styles. The basic idea is that students learn differently and have different strengths. Teachers thus should try to facilitate multiple paths to learning and attempt to create different ways for students to show their mastery of content material. Most video games seamlessly integrate three of our five senses: sight, sound, and touch. If we ever figure out a way to implement Smell-o-vision or Odorama with our computers (click here to learn more about digital scent technology!), participants also may experience different smells while gaming. Because they can simultaneously utilize images, text, sound, interactions, abstract design, and so on (Gee, 2003, p. 210), video games are better able to simulate real-life experiences than can printed text, audio, or video. This makes learning more authentic, more engaging, and more compelling.

Questions of the day

  • How do the concepts discussed above map on to K-12 education?
  • Are our K-12 classrooms set up . . . to allow students to travel their individualized and unique learning paths? to create embodied, authentic learning experiences that are not decontextualized or overgeneralized? to facilitate multimodal learning as the dominant pedagogical model?

Gaming and education resource 4

Here's the schedule for the rest of the series:

  • Friday: subset of real domain, bottom-up basic skills, just-in-time information
  • Saturday: discovery learning, learning transfer, learner as producer
  • Monday: wrap-up