Today is Day 5 of my week-long series related to gaming, cognition, and education. Remember that I am approaching this issue with the following question in mind: Why is it that kids who can’t sit still in class for five minutes can be mentally locked in for hours at home playing video games? If you’re new to this series, check out the previous posts:

My guide for this series is Dr. Jim Gee at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, author of What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. Today’s topics are subset of real domain, bottom-up basic skills, and just-in-time information.

13. Video games can create subsets of a domain

One of the most powerful features of video games is their ability to simulate worlds: past, present, or future; real or fictional. The multimodal capabilities of video games allow participants to be immersed in rich, deep learning contexts. For example, instead of reading about the Civil War, learners can take the role of soldier, general, medic, battlefield photographer, news correspondent, and the like. At the same time, however, dropping a new learner into a complex world can be disorienting and discouraging. Video games can create a simplified subset of the real domain, a starting place where participants can safely become oriented to the new world before being exposed to the entire learning environment. The value of this cannot be understated. Imagine if you were an English-speaking American who was about to be dropped into the middle of South Korea. Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a chance for some safe and structured, but authentic, practice first? Gee (2003) sums this up nicely:

Learning is not started in a separate place (e.g., a classroom or textbook) outside the domain in which the learning is going to operate. At the same time, the learner is not thrown into the “real” thing – the full game – and left to swim or drown. (p. 122)

14. Video games effectively facilitate “bottom up” learning of basic skills

In early stages of video games, learners are exposed to critical fundamental skills that allow them to gradually engage in more complex actions. As Gee (2003) notes,

early situations and problems [are designed] in a quite sophisticated way to lead to fruitful learning. When later the player is confronted by harder situations and problems, he or she has just the right basis on which to make fruitful guesses about what to do. (p. 135)

These basic skills are learned in a “bottom up” fashion – by playing the game, not through decontextualized exercises. Indeed, the structured learning environments of video games typically are designed so effectively that

by the time new players are aware of what are basic skills . . . the basic elements that are used repeatedly and combined and often concentrated in the earlier episodes . . . they have already mastered them. (Gee, 2003, p. 136)

15. Video games facilitate “just in time” learning

The artificial intelligences that reside in video games can be structured to respond in different ways to participant activity. Computer-mediated learning environments thus can be designed to provide information “just in time” or on demand. There is a great deal power associated with just-in-time learning or resource acquisition. For example, in manufacturing and industry, the concept of just-in-time manufacturing allows companies to reduce inventory and cut costs, making them more efficient and effective. Similarly, just-in-time learning environments allow participants to acquire skills or knowledge when they need them and not before. This facilitates greater concentration in earlier stages on things that are important (rather than extraneous or unneeded); allows for greater individualization and customization; makes learning more fluid; and leads to more active, engaged, motivated learners.

Questions of the day

  • How do the concepts discussed above map on to K-12 education?
  • Are our K-12 classrooms set up . . . to create safe but authentic subsets of real learning domains? to help students invisibly learn important skills from the “bottom up?” to allow students to gain information only when they need it (i.e., when it can best be understood and put into practice)?

Gaming and education resource 5

Here’s the schedule for the rest of the series:

  • Saturday: discovery learning, learning transfer, learner as producer
  • Monday: wrap-up