Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.
Benjamin Franklin found this statement true for himself, in his time. Given the evolution of learning and how we process information in today’s day and age, what Ben Franklin said in the 1700’s is a profound message for how we learn and how we can teach in the 21st Century. And we are fortunate that today we have a broader spectrum of tools which are accessible to a larger audience.
Immersive learning is the future. It has always been the way human beings have learned best. It happens that the evolution of education in the United States has distanced immersion from the educational process. Even as small children, we learn spatial relations by reaching out to touch everything (and then chewing on it). We learn language by listening and starting to make sounds ourselves. We learn the names of colors by identifying a sound of a word with visual input. We learn because a contextual world surrounds us and involves us, literally, in every step we take.
Today most K-12 based learning (indeed most learning of any kind) takes place out of context, in a rather passive manner. People read, report, present, but rarely are they in the environment in which the content they need to comprehend is active, usable and demanding their response. Video games change this.
To learn biology, students may finally get a chance to dissect a frog, but until that point they were looking at text books, movies, illustrations, reading and discussing. When it comes to molecules and their functions, these topics are “abstract,” difficult to introduce, and even more difficult to test. The video game Immune Attack lets players activate individual proteins and see what effect they have on the body. Immune Attack is listed as the #1 game at MygameIQ.com because it is popular with players. As a further example, the video game, Discover Babylon (available for free at fas.org/babylon), shows players real artifacts from library collections displayed not on sterile shelves, but in use by real families in ancient times. Also a highly popular game, MygameIQ.com rates it at #3.
It is this interaction which makes teaching tools such as video games so vital to education. They provide immersion within the context of what is being learned. Students become the activity about which they are learning. They are the cell which experiences the energy boost when the right protein locks in; they feel the tense desperation of being a white blood cell fighting the uncontrollable growth of an infection. In short, through games they are involved in the content they are studying.
We’ve been conducting play tests with middle and high school students of our Immune Attack I (AI-I) and while statistics are still being compiled, I can say that watching how the students interact with the game and then seeing the analytics recording the knowledge they have gained has been fascinating. It continues to reinforce my conviction that video games, gamiifcation of content (which means adding game-oriented elements such as health meters and leaderboards) and other forms of interactive learning will become the norm of how we choose to educate people of all ages in the near future.