Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Games Based Situated Learning

Let there be light...
After my previous tongue in cheek post on Bill Gates and his funding for games based learning, I thought I would write a more serious summary article of our white paper Games Based Situated Learning, which (by-the-way) can be found on the resource page of our corporate website.

Games based learning, if it is to succeed, needs to be more than a bit of fun that motivates students and needs to be underpinned with learning theory. Measuring outcomes such as fun, engagement, and motivation generates buy-in, to a certain degree, but it provides no guiding principles for designers and educators (teachers/ lecturers). Situated Learning provides such a theoretical underpinning, and while some have argued that game simulation stretches the original basis of Situated Learning, the consensus is in favour of viewing GBL from such a perspective. Games Based Situated Learning (GBSL) moves away from the pure “apprentice model” of learning but it still stays true to the key tenets with little modification, as shown below:

  • Information must be given in authentic simulated context.
  • Learning must take place within social interaction and collaboration.

In terms of authentic activity, simulation maybe as close as it is possible to get to the real thing.  It is not just emergency training where simulation provides the only option; for example, it is only through simulation that young people are going to experience many scenarios. Logistical and cost barriers exist, but time is a key problem. Games can compress time and can simulate events in a different period.

A well designed simulation that has been modeled on expert knowledge, which offers collaborative learning in the form of blended delivery provides a powerful experience that does not merely engage the learner, a benefit in its own right, but anchors the learning process by contexualising it with ‘real’ scenarios.

Herrington and Oliver, who have written extensively on situated learning and multimedia, suggest that to marry up to the theory, programmes need to:

  • Provide authentic context.
  • Provide authentic activities.
  • Embed expert performances and model processes.
  • Provide multiple roles and perspectives.
  • Support collaborative construction of knowledge.
  • Provide coaching and scaffolding.
  • Promote reflection to enable abstractions to be formed.
  • Promote articulation to enable tacit knowledge to be made explicit.
  • Provide for integrated assessment.

Much of the criticism of games based learning, and there is some, is levelled a commercial games that have been used “as is” or have been slightly modified. Purpose built games should not suffer from flaws such has being more about fun than understanding and not linking to the curriculum, but developers need to think seriously about the logistical issues of educational usage. Games need to modified / designed to work in classroom both in terms of content, in terms of time and technology. Are those fancy 3D graphics and soundtrack necessary? Do they add to the learning? Will they run on school computers? If the game is a standalone game, then it will require a trip to the IT suite. And if does, can we truly say that games are being used in the classroom?

Our games-ED products have been developed from GBSL perspective. The games can be described as resource management games. They are played in classroom environment on a single computer by the whole class. The games narrative is structured around a relevant context such as a community – they are situated. The class is spit into sub-teams that have to collaborate to achieve common goals such as improving the community.

Our experience with games-ED has shown us that if educators are to take a leap of faith, then games based learning developers need to meet them halfway. Developers cannot expect decades of good teaching practice to be thrown away. To this end Games Based Situated Learning supports the evolution of teaching and not require a revolution.

Next time I will outline six key principles of collaborative games based learning.

Further Reading  

  • Jan Herrington and Ron Oliver (1995). Critical Characteristics of Situated Learning: Implications for the Instructional Design of Multimedia
  • Jan Herrington and Ron Oliver (1997). Multimedia, magic and the way students respond to a situated learning environment.
  • Jan Herrington and Ron Oliver (2000). Towards a New Tradition of Online Instruction: Using Situated Learning Theory to Design Web-Based Units
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