Finding of the week #30

Gaming and lifelong learning

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I present my idea of increasing the motivation for a lifelong learning by playing games that allow two different approaches the same time: a more casual and entertaining approach and a more efficient approach that requires in-depth knowledge about the presented topic.

This idea is mostly based on my own observations by playing games like Kerbal Space Program (KSP)[1]. One major goal in todays educational science is increasing the motivation for a lifelong learning. I think that by playing such simulation games, people can get interested in learning more about the presented topic. Of course, at this point of the idea, it only includes specific knowledge about a certain topic, but a more wider approach could work as well.

The game itself hasn’t to be designed to present a clear learning goal. The core part of the game should have an entertaining purpose. Playing the game still requires the player to learn the control functions and to interpret the information presented over the user interface. As I’ve already pointed out by explaining the gameplay of KSP[2], the user learns a lot important facts about the presented topic just by playing the game. If these facts are based on real world facts, then the user learns even more than just playing and understanding the game: the game-based knowledge can be directly transferred to the real world.

My own idea to increase the lifelong learning starts at the point when the player has learnt most of the game functions and feels free to explore the environment with great confident. At this point, the game should allow two different approaches. On the one side, the game has to remain entertaining. Players have to be able to complete their goals just by playing the game for fun. On the other side, the game should offer a more efficient and elegant approach, if the player has a deeper knowledge about the specific topic.

These both approaches can increase the motivation for a lifelong learning. The game at its own is entertaining and motivates users to play it. They can complete the whole game on their own by experimenting or doing things inefficiently. However, if the presented topic has enough parallels to the real world and the players are hooked up by the easy and entertaining approach, they can start to gather more knowledge about the presented topic. By accumulating more knowledge, new approaches to play the game come to their minds and they get excited by doing things in a more efficient way. Over time, users are motivated for a lifelong learning to increase their own skills in the particular game.

To make things more clear, I like to explain my idea using KSP. The space program simulation allows players to explore a solar system by executing interplanetary missions. In order to land on a different planet, the space craft has to change the sphere of influence (soi). To leave the soi of the home planet Kerbin, a certain amount of energy is needed.
At this point, two options are available. The inefficient but still entertaining way is doing the whole burn in one go. The space craft will need a bit more fuel, but be in most cases able to leave the soi of Kerbin.
The more scientific way, that on the other hand requires a deeper knowledge about rocket science, is getting advantage of the Oberth effect[3]. Players who are aware of this mechanic are able to do more efficient flights to different worlds. In order to benefit from real world parallels players are encouraged to engage oneself in learning new facts.

Obviously, this lifelong learning by gaming concept needs to be improved, but the idea can increase the motivation for a lifelong learning. The major disadvantage might be the need for real world parallels that are mostly common in simulation games. However, tycoon games could rely on real world business concepts, historical rts games could require additional knowledge about the time presented in the game.

To wrap things up, I think that games like KSP can increase the motivation for a lifelong learning by presenting a real world topic in an entertaining way. By allowing players on the one side to just have fun and on the other side to apply additional knowledge they can benefit from, players might get interested in learning new things about the topic to improve their gameplay. Due to the fact that the freshly gained insights are real world knowledge, players improve their general knowledge the same time just by playing a game.