Teenagers are not known for their passion for learning. Exceptions aside, most kids hitting puberty find anything vaguely educational to be boring by default. Of course hormones and body/brain development are partly to blame for this. But we’re not making it easy on them, now are we? While all they want to do is experience life, we force them to sit still with a text book in hand. So what ever happened to learning is fun?
Nothing really. It is still fun depending on which way you get taught. Homo Sapiens was teaching and learning long before textbooks, or even classrooms. Hell, most animals learn! Though I don’t think text books are involved …
Evolutionary psychologists have long since established that the natural way to learn, the fun way to learn, is to play (Sources: here and here. Read at your own peril). Kids have been in on this fact for most of evolution. Along the way we decided that this is not acceptable for anybody who has run around the planet for 12+ years. Admittedly, it might be a bit time consuming to teach youngsters the dynamics of the stock market by simulating one with classrooms economics. But try imagining a realistic online simulator that tracks the activities of the actual stock market and uses that information to set up a virtual stock market where the students get to be analysts and big players, moving big bucks? Sure, it isn’t real. But it’s as realistic as it gets and it teaches the students actual skills and dynamics that are relevant in the market place.
Let’s pick another subject: Language. I think many-to-most non-English gamers have learned English from videogames. I used to work at a homework institute for high school students. I tutored them in English. Over half the “naturally talented” students turned out to be avid gamers. So why are high schools not picking up on this? Playing Monkey Island in French would have sure beat all those rote-learning exercises. Sure, I might have sounded like a bad French pirate, but the basics would have stuck.
Of course the idea of teaching teens through video games is not new. The Quest to Learn high school in New York is actually going quite overboard with the concept. Sadly, I can’t find any updates on their progress that are any younger than 2009. The Teach Video Games blog gives a clear idea of what they are up to. Their subjects have hipster titles like “Space and Place” and “Being”. How would you offer up that grade transcript for college? I’d suggest sticking with traditional subjects but simply enriching the learning experience with video games.
Of course there are reasons this has not been done yet. Some people might think video games are not an effective medium (and if you were one of those, I hope I have convinced you otherwise with this article). Others might say the necessary game development is too expensive or the results will lack quality. But is that really true?
Educational games could easily be developed by computer science and art graduates working together with on-coming teachers of various subjects. I think many students would get a kick out of ‘their’ game being chosen as classroom material for countless teenagers. Also, their work would be practically for free as our student-developers will already be boosting their resumes and possibly earning credit toward their degrees. Added bonus is that the college students will be more attuned to what will actually be fun and educational software for their teenage audience.
All this might sound rather utopian to some. But dreams are the foundation of improvement. Video games won’t only teach the teens what they need to know. It will also teach them learning is fun. And that’s a lesson that will really help them throughout their lives.