Gaming, cognition, and education - Part 6

Today is the last day 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:


  • Day 2 - amplification of input, rewards, lots of practice
  • Day 3 - ongoing learning, regime of competence, probing
  • Day 4 - multiple routes to success, contextualized meaning, multimodal learning
  • Day 5 - subset of real domain, bottom-up basic skills, just-in-time information
  • 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 discovery learning, learning transfer, learner as producer.

    16. Gamers are discovery learners

    Virtually every role-playing game requires participants to actively investigate the learning environment. As noted previously, this active learning aspect replicates real-life learning contexts and deepens overall knowledge and proficiency. Unlike many K-12 classrooms, video games rarely tell learners anything overtly. If games do, it's usually planful and related to something small. All of the big discoveries - the conceptual breakthroughs - are left for the learner to discover in a structured, scaffolded way. Educators have long recognized the value of guided, inquiry-based learning methods, particularly for problem-solving, even if they have rarely implemented such methods on a large scale.

    17. Gamers have many opportunities for learning transfer

    One of the key outcomes that educators try to achieve with students is the transfer of learning from one context to another. In rapidly-changing societies such as ours, the ability to transfer and/or adapt existing knowledge and skills to new situations is an essential requirement for life success. Video games give participants many opportunities to practice already-acquired skills and to transfer their learning to new and different challenges. To succeed in video games, learners must not only exhibit near transfer (i.e., replication of prior learning to new, fairly similar, situations) but also far transfer (i.e., adaptation and modification of prior learning to substantively different contexts).

    18. Gamers are producers and insiders, not just consumers

    Like other modern technology tools (e.g., digital cameras and camcorders, podcasts, blogs, wikis), many video games allow learners to be producers of original content, not just consumers of pre-packaged material. Some of the most popular role-playing games (e.g., Second Life, EverQuest) have very sophisticated economies built upon user-created content. These video games have tools that allow for rich, individualized customization of the learning environment by participants. This stands in sharp contrast to the "one size fits all" instructional model that we see in many schools and classrooms, where teachers and textbooks are the insiders and "the learners are outsiders who must take what they are given as mere consumers" (Gee, 2003, p. 194). Control of the learning path, and perhaps the learning environment itself, can be powerfully motivating and engaging for learners.

    Questions of the day

    • How do the concepts discussed above map on to K-12 education?
  • Are our K-12 classrooms set up . . . to facilitate discovery learning? to facilitate learning transfer, both near and far? to allow students to be producers and insiders, not just consumers?
  • Gaming and education resource 6

    On Monday, I will wrap this all up and present a tool that can be used to help teachers and administrators discuss (and maybe reframe) their beliefs about gaming.

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