Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

Lame-Based Learning ?

This week, the buzz of game-based learning is around Bill Gates talking about Why ‘game-based learning’ is the future of education. (from Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s post)

Last year, the foundation announced it would invest $20 million in a variety of teacher tools, including this and other technologies geared toward changing the way teachers teach and kids learn.

“We’re not saying the whole curriculum turns into this big game. We’re saying it’s an adjunct to a serious curriculum,” he said.

The foundation’s idea is that in coming years, there could be a digital mall full of low-cost or free online games teachers could download to use with the entire class or individual students.

“Part of what we’re trying to do is make more robust the array of things teachers have access to at their fingertips that are aligned to standards, that are high quality, that engage kids though technology and let [teachers] be the orchestra leader, ” Phillips said.

The idea is absolutely awesome. But we found there are some thought needs debating. Like the commentary from Sarah Thorneycroft, she pointed out what ideal game-based learning should be in this post: Lame-Based Learning.(licensed under CC-BY)


game-based learningJust came across this article which, once again, has me despairing about the way people talk about games-based learning. Gates speaks with two fundamental flaws in his thinking (it may have been more but the second half of the article was auth-walled), which seem fairly common across the board.

“it’s an adjunct to a serious curriculum”

We’re never going to get anywhere with this if we keep assigning it to ‘other’. Anything fun, anything creative, anything outside the box – it’s not serious. We’ll stick it in somewhere because we like that it ‘promotes engagement’ but then we’ll get on with the proper learning in normal ways. It’s this kind of thinking that has driven the gamification trend – ‘we like the engagement games offer but we still want proper learning because games are a bit scary so let’s add some points and badges and make it a thing’. It fundamentally misses the point of why people are engaging in games in the first place.

Games aren’t ‘other’. Games aren’t a layer you can apply to something else. Games *are* proper learning. It just doesn’t look like any other kind of learning we have in our brain’s cultural inbox. It leads to the next problem:

“Imagine if kids poured their time and passion into a video game that taught them math concepts while they barely noticed, because it was so enjoyable”

They already are, Bill. This is what strikes me as the most fundamental problem with the discussion of games in learning – the idea that games do not contain learning unless you deliberately put it in there. Commercial game designers design for engagement and nothing else, which appears to terrify most people in the business of education – after all, you can’t possibly be learning unless you’re planning and talking about it explicitly. However, the fact that you can’t ‘see’ the learning doesn’t mean it’s not there. If you discard Angry Birds or PvZ or Minecraft or WoW as merely ‘entertainment’ you’re discarding a whole host of rich learning in not just maths but physics, design, literacy, social skills, resilience and too many others to keep listing. This is why IMHO the entire genre of ‘educational games’ needs to die – the design is usually for learning first, and usually in a one-dimensional way (the example given in the article has the objective of ‘manipulating fractions’). And then people wonder why kids aren’t spending hours playing them, setting up Vent servers, building wikis, making machinima and so on – all the hallmarks of ‘engagement’ in commercial games.

Learning in games is messy. It’s implicit and incidental and you can’t control it. It’s the elephant in the room when we talk about games. It’s daunting to think that the people who are producing some of the best learning environments/experiences didn’t actually mean for anyone to learn anything at all (at least not in an outcomes & curriculum sense). I really do wish that people – particularly rather high-profile ones – would consider this before banging on about ‘levels’ and winning being a motivator.


We also came across Alice Leung‘s blog which talks a lot about how she uses commercial games into her classrooms, those games include Formula 1 (learn Newton’s Laws of motion, see this post), Kinect Sports (learn average speed, See this post), Age of Empires (learn history, this game is based on history events) and more… she said:

I like to use commercially produced games that are designed for entertainment rather than educational games. Generally, educational games are very boring.

What do you think that games for learning should look like ?


Tagged as: , , ,

5 Responses »

  1. As long as state standards tests are not given in game form, it’s gonna be a tough sell. OK it’s going to be a tough sell.

  2. Thanks for the true comment. Yes, it will not be a leap. As soon as 1-to-1 becomes common in classrooms, it might be possible for game-based assessment to be tested and utilized.

  3. Hi! I´m with a start-up Norwegian/French Maths Education Game Developer called We Want To Know. Our Founder is a Maths Teacher in Norway who was frustrated by the lack of good app games to compliment the increasing engagement of iPads in the classroom. Our first game is DragonBox which, in independent tests in schools in Norway showed that within one hour 30% of the kids weere able to solve equations that hitherto they were unable to tackle and that after two hours of playing 80% were able to solve quite complex equations that even their parents would have struggled with. The amazing thing about DragonBox is that the kids don´t actually realize they are learning about the concepts of algebra – as far as they are concerned they are just playing a “cool” game. DragonBox was prelaunched three weeks ago in Norway and immediately went to the top of the “paid for charts” at the Apple App Store here – not bad for a Maths Game to knock “Angry Birds” off their perch! We have just signed an agreement with the Center for Game Science at the University of Washington to test DragonBox and our future Math Games in 100 schools across the USA. You can see DragonBox by visiting or download it at the Apple App Store or Google Play for $2.99 for the standard version and $5.99 for a deluxe version with an extra 100 games.
    I haven´t included the price information to sell the game (although it would be good) but really to show you how reasonably priced it is.
    I hope this is of interest to you all and any feedback would be much appreciated!

  4. Hi, Thank you for the information. We’ve noticed your news and featured it on this post.

    I’ve purchased the deluxe version for my 4th grader kid, so I am sure your app does an impressive work to make solving one-unknown algebra equation like playing a game. The visualization is great. My kid can play it really well until at the highest level she stuck, I’ll let her figure it out by herself. Hope you will keep adding more levels onto the app.

    If you will give our readers some free codes to get the app, let us know. It will be appreciated! 🙂


  1. Play and Learn Weekly Jul.21st, 2012 | Classroom Aid

Your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
"I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create digital tutors that are as effective as personal tutors, educational software as compelling as the best video game," President Barack Obama said while touring a tech-focused Boston school (year 2011).
%d bloggers like this: