Learning from games

Written on the

A few thoughts on technology, learning and games for a Friday afternoon.

A Gamasutra article, entitled Fighting Indecision (And So Much More) with Games made me reconsider some approaches we've been taking recently with our courses and tools on Learn Zone as well as the differences between training and learning.

The article, by Ben Serviss, discusses the possibility of a more long-term effect from playing game-like activities, as opposed to traditional, simulation-base training. Ben's own experience was with his habit of indecision and the effect of playing the music-rhythm game, Frequency. Having to make quick decisions in the game without being able to spend time weighing up each option, illustrates how these titles embed a specific behaviour and only allow you to progress by mastering and expressing that behaviour.

Another example of this, again from the article, is a tool for surgeons performing laparoscopic surgery.

"When asked to come up with a game to train surgeons for laparoscopic surgery, the developers noted that existing training methods were technically effective, but too boring to be used regularly."

Instead of going for the traditional simulator, the developers created a fictional game world, characters and actions that reinforced the physical practices expected of the surgeons. While they did this with custom-designed game controllers, there's nothing stopping us extending this thinking to the web page. While tools are available to create rich and engaging online learning content, the resulting material is usually inaccessible to many and rarely conforms to current web standards.

Perhaps there's a trick we're missing, though. Could we use tools like Twine to create engaging, decision-oriented content that sits comfortably within standards-compliant and accessible web pages, but embeds the actions we want to promote in a game narrative?

I think we'd be pushing it by using something like GameMaker or Unity, but there may be situations where these become just the right tools for the job, outside of the web, on modern smartphones.

One of our main target audiences, Health and social care professionals, don't have a lot of spare time and I bet they don't want to spend what little they have rehashing their work-day. But, what if we could give them learning tools and content that entertained as well as taught?

I'll be working these thoughts into some plans over the coming weeks, but I'll leave you with the closing paragraph from Ben's article:

"Anyone who's been affected by a game knows the potential they have to change lives. Whether it's in resolving indecision, easing social anxiety, healing trauma or opening the door to parts of the world you've never seen, games are capable of so much more than simple fun."