What Can We Learn About Learning from Playing Games?

We had a fun open house today in eLearning – the theme was games and learning.  Aside from the great food (thanks, crew!) we had the Xbox going playing Rock Band and Dance Dance Revolution.  We had several people stop in who had never played these games before and they  jumped in to learn how.   It was interesting seeing different people’s approaches to trying something new that requires learning a new skill.   

On the drive home I was thinking about this.  There is loads of research out there about the application of gaming theory to learning activities.  But I was having fun thinking of things that we can think about in our teaching environments that we observe when people are playing games.  I was thinking about the elements of effective learning environments that the poster presentation we made covered.

So to serve as the cap to our poster, here are some observations I have from today about games.  All very obvious stuff, but fun to think about anyway.

  • People are more willing to take risks in a positive environment.  Everyone has a different comfort level with putting themselves out there.  Being encouraging and accepting is a must in environments where people take social risks. 
  • Don’t take no as an answer.  Don’t be pushy, but ask repeatedly as time passes if someone wants to participate.  Some people like to watch for a long time before jumping in.  Give them plenty of opportunities to change their minds.
  • People love quick feedback!  This is a huge one for learning and is what makes games addicting.  Not everything can have instant feedback, but the closer the feedback (positive or negative) to the activity the quicker the player can adapt and learn.
  • Experienced non-experts make great coaches.  When someone is a complete beginner they need the basics.  It works really well in games for someone who has some experience to explain how the basics work.  Everyone playing has both a learning and a coaching role.
  • Sometimes it’s best to hold off on the expert demonstration until people have had a chance.  I’m talking directly here about my struggles with Dance Dance Revolution and then seeing an expert do it.  But because I had some experience I could more readily see what she was doing and what specific technique I was lacking.  I had a concept of what to do next time.   I don’t think I would have otherwise as readily grasped that if I had zero hands-on experience.

Anyway, it was fun.   I guess there isn’t a need to over examine that!


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