What does ‘Minecraft’ classroom move mean for eLearning?
You may have read last week that the Viktor Rydberg school in Stockholm have introduced video gaming as a mandatory element of their syllabus for 13 year olds. The game in question is Minecraft.
Minecraft is an internet phenomenon. It began life as an independent project by a Swedish programmer named Markus “Notch” Persson. Without any advertising apart from the power of enthusiasts communicating on social media, it had passed one million sales less than a month after entering beta phase of development. By the time it went officially live in November 2011, it had already sold millions and earned millions for its creator.
So what is this extraordinary game. Well, if you have tried it you will know that it is essentially a giant Lego set. Players collect natural resources in the form of blocks, which can be combined to create useful objects, and used to build structures within a blocky 3D environment. Unlike most of the latest video games, the graphic style is simple with a 1980s retro feel to it.
An interesting feature of the game is that it does not have a specific end or even a set of goals you have to accomplish to progress. It is essentially a vast canvas on which you can roam and create virtually without limit. Well, there are a few zombies and spiders that come out at night, but they are not central to the game. Players can build whatever they like, and they do build pretty much anything.
So what does this game offer that has made it so successful, and so suitable for an educational context?
“It’s their world and they enjoy it,” Monica Ekman, a teacher at the school told English language paper The Local. “They learn about city planning, environmental issues, getting things done, and even how to plan for the future.”
There is also the social and co-operative aspect. You can share your creations and learn from what others are building all in a safe and engaging environment.
This recognition of the power of gaming to inspire creative thought while grabbing and holding the full attention of the player is not new. I recall similar experiences in my distant youth, building cranes and robots with my Meccano set.
But there are increasing signs that gaming – or gamification as we are expected to label it – is finally reaching the mainstream of e-learning and instructional design.
The tools that enable us to build serious games within our courseware are far easier to use and economically viable than even a few years ago, as of course is the availability of the platforms to run them.
It is far easier now, and creates far more effective results, to focus learning on the practical application of knowledge and skills than on the dry facts. That applies to health and safety, money laundering and insurance underwriting just as much as it does to plumbing or electrical engineering.
On the subject of plumbing, here is a great example from Train4Trade, winners of the games and simulations gold award at the E-learning Awards in 2011 and in 2012.
Here too is a link to the 2010 winner, the full game freely available on line, enabling teenagers to run the country – well they couldn’t do any worse, could they? 😉
At Unicorn, we have been advocates of action based learning for 25 years. In fact, some of our earliest work involved building simulation training models for an airport and a cosmetics company. The graphics have improved a tad over the years, but the underlying models still work and provide great learning experiences.
If you are creating on-line learning, then the days of “click (or tap) Next to continue, and endless screens of “click and reveal” are truly numbered.
Here’s something I prepared earlier, a few tips on introducing gaming principles into e-learning without compromising the essential serious purpose of performance improvement.
Finally, a word of wisdom from Albert Einstein – “Knowledge is got by experience, all the rest is information.”