Chris Dede of Harvard has identified three new century demands for learning:
1. Collaborate with diverse teams of people
2. Create, share and master knowledge by assessing and filtering quasi-accurate information
3. Thrive on chaos – make rapid decisions based on incomplete information in order to resolve novel dilemmas
Research is showing that games can help develop these skills and attitudes whether the games are purposed for, appropriated by, or incidental to the formal context in which the skills will be applied.
Games purposed for learning were highlighted with spotlight on the serious games development and their use of simulations and role play strategies. These games have learning objectives as part of their design. They are very often content focused and engage players in bounded representations of real world environments. Players manipulate aspects of the world and hypothesize and test out the repercussions of their actions. In the past few such games included the multiplayer social dimension allowing for many-to-many discourse, collaboration and knowledge sharing.
· Finance for Decision Makers
· One the job video training
Games that are part of entertainment are also being appropriated as a part of formal learning agendas. Teachers in schools struggle with how to slice and dice multi-hour engagement in immersive games like Civilization within inflexible school timetables. Family counsellors like my daughter are considering use of the Sims in their work with adolescents growing up in dysfunctional families.
· The Sims
The most intangible and arguably the most exciting area of learning gain from online gameplay may come as an unintentional by-product of personal and recreational engagement in games. Most recent research into online games would suggest there are gains to be made in three key areas.
2. ‘soft skills’
3. habits of mind.
It is in these last 2 areas that MMOG appear to have the greatest strengths. Their capacity to develop as complex social environments extends to players access to knowledge sharing and support through the self-organising communities that envelope them. Players in these games do not act as docile consumers but are instrumental to the system as Taylor’s First Monday article reminds us; “... scholars and designers need to pay serious attention to the role of players in game culture, not simply as consumers or widgets that can be plugged into rationalized systems, but as prime agents in producing and sustaining the very systems they are engaged with.”
Skills and attitudes developed in online games transfer into decision making and complex problem solving in workplaces. Mike Antonucci boldly states “The people who play games are into technology, can handle more information, can synthesize more complex data, solve operational design problems, lead change and bring organizations through change”. Galarneau and Zibit identify the “soft skills” developed in gaming as critical thinking, teamwork, problem solving and collaboration. In their research into World of WarCraft forums Steinkuehler and Chmiel (2006) found evidence of the development of scientific habits of mind such as scientific argumentation, model-based reasoning and, theory-evidence coordination.
· World of WarCraft
There is a big lesson from MMOG environments. People are enormously capable when given the space and motivation, even through simple gameplay, to flex their cognitive and social muscle in an environment where anything is possible and experimentation is safe, permissible and desirable. (Galarneau & Zibit)
A nascent body of research, and I have only cited a few luminaries, indicates that games have a role to play in answering Dede’s demands for learning and in developing skills beneficial for the 21st century. Now we have to work out how – more on this tomorrow.