Principles of Game-like Learning – my reflections from Katie Salen’s Webinar #ConnectedLearning

Yesterday I was asked to participate in a Webinar organised by Connected Learning with the title: Making Learning Irresistible: 6 Principles of Game-like Learning

Katie Salen was to be the featured speaker for the Webinar and the participant list is impressive. I have to say that it was an honour for me to be there alongside with Howard Rheingold, Cathie Howe, Randall Fujimoto and Katie Salen of course; all people who I follow and network with.

We might start asking the question “Why?”

Why does one choose the principles of game design, and apply them to learning? or even better, is there a true need for this? and why is there such a need for this? Does this all really mean that one simply inserts a couple of games into the school structure and hope for success? The answers to these questions can be found by following the Webinar which you can access from this link, but I have tried to post my own reflections here in this blog.

The Webinar started with a presentation by Katie Salen, as she went through the different aspects which drive learning projects like Quest to Learn as well as the new sister school in Chicago. The driving vision which emerges from these projects as well as from other projects concocted by the Institute of Play is that of a ‘connected learning‘, that overcomes the barriers that exist between learning and living. One of the first questions which triggered the set up of both schools, was ‘In what ways can the principles game design contribute to the design of connected learning?’

This posits a whole new dimension to the theories of learning and the theories of engagement as suddenly these are defined in terms of provocations, shifting the way people are indeed connected to the world. The design of learning within the school then takes on a different pathway, as all the parts of the learning system need to be redefined and re-dimensioned according to the holistic nature of the complex learning mechanisms.

Katie Salen, described games as beautiful models of systems, whereby in a dynamic system, having different choices, or altering rules, has an impact on the whole system. Therefore when we look at an Educational system, we cannot just take that which is considered to be only a small part of the system.

Recently there was TV program here in Malta on National TV and the main focus was the issue of teachers within the school system. The questions seemed to imply that the failures attributed t0 an Educational system are due to the teachers, the working conditions and even the way they are trained. In fact, if we apply the core principles of game design, and extrapolate them to an Educational system, the teachers themselves are only a wheel driving the system made up of many more components that are not only intertwined but are also heavily inter-dependent on each other. Therefore in answer to the question asked above, ‘can we just insert a couple of games and hope for success?’ – the answer is an emphatic NO.

In Katie Salen’s own words, we need to rethink schools in terms not just of classes and classroom space, but also in philosophical underpinnings, in terms of the pedagogy, in terms of leadership, of parents’ influence and interactions. The principles which game designers focus on, and which Katie Salen and her team took into consideration in the Quest to Learn project, were four and included:

  1. Create the need to know;
  2. Offer a space of possibility;
  3. Build opportunities for authority and the expertise to be shared;
  4. Support multiple, overlapping pathways towards mastery.

As one can note, these design principles, although being those which game designers tend to follow when designing successful games, can be easily extrapolated to schools and a design for learning.

So if we take the first principle, when designing learning, one needs to create that hunger to learn, to know, to achieve something without having to be told what one has to know, or even worse what one needs to know. At this moment, if we take into consideration, for example certain topics, say Fractions or decimals, most teaching is done around the fact that the students will have to answer a question or two about fractions and decimals in the exam paper, and that with enough practice, the students would be able to answer those questions, even blindfolded. At least, that is the way I have been taught and that is the way which I observe many people teaching even now. So Katie asks, what if, instead, we present students with interesting complex problems based on fractions or decimals, that actually the kids will need to know, without us having really to tell them that they are and they need to learn how to do fractions? It’s a tough challenge, and it requires brains, but I am sure the with the right professional attitude, teachers are more than equipped with the skills to transform this kind of learning.

When designing learning, when designing “syllabi” or these new curricula which are being designed for the state schools in Malta, can we really get to start with the content and try to move beyond. My observations of these ‘curricula’ is that the people who are doing them are really starting from the content and stopping there. In a connected learning model, we need to provide the space for people to grow and to mature in their quest for knowledge, and therefore we also need to design multiple ways of reaching content competencies. This is also why the discussion touched upon assessments and ways in which such competencies can ultimately be assessed.

A learning system, guided by these principles cannot be built on standardised forms of assessment only, and these standardised forms of assessment cannot be the driving force behind the content and how this is moulded throughout the kids’ growing years. In a connected learning model, knowledge sharing is giving priority over knowledge transfer and thus the teaching model, will merge slowly into a mentoring model, where kids have the freedom to grow and share with us their daily learning experiences. A beautiful target that all of us as Educators should wish to aspire to, I would say.

So, my final comment, following this Webinar – it was too short 🙂 I would have spent hours hanging out there learning from all the people who participated. I would like to offer my thanks to everyone, once again and hope to catch up with everyone soon to take on the discussions further.


3 thoughts on “Principles of Game-like Learning – my reflections from Katie Salen’s Webinar #ConnectedLearning

  1. Thank you very much for your reflection of the webinar. Unfortunately I have missed the webinar. So I am glad to get this overview (I will have a look at the recording of the session later) and your personal impressions.

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