Saturday, January 30, 2016

What Does Game-Based Learning Mean for Many Adult Learners?

As part of the graduate course work in INTE 5320 at University of Colorado Denver, and continued scholarship in games & learning, I am commenting and critiquing an article that piqued my interest last week I originally discovered on Twitter: 

What's so interesting about non-traditional adult learners?

I was initially drawn to this article about non-traditional students and how game-based learning can apply to these types of students. I wanted to know how the article and study defined “non-traditional” students, and as I had hoped, the article defined them through a range of possible scenarios, but of most interest to me was how this definition applies to undergraduate and graduate students. Such as, students who work full-time, and go to school, who are also juggling family responsibilities. This is fascinating to me because I am one of these students, and many of my colleagues studying Information and Learning Technologies at University of Colorado Denver would also qualify for this classification. Learning with Professor Remi Holden, and his approach to higher education through an “ecological pedagogy,” I am all too familiar with the myriad of ways to be engaged with education - on Canvas, on Twitter, on blogs, social networks, etc. On the way to work, during lunch break, during dinner, late at night in bed, on a laptop, ipad, or smartphone. This is my life as a non-traditional graduate learner. As I begin to engage with the games & learning course, I’m wondering how and what types of games are suitable for non-traditional students like myself who are very much so achieving an education in the micro moments in day to day life.

About the study

The author references Bert Snow, Vice President of Design for Muzzy Lane Software, the company that conducted the study, who mentions the process of learning for non-traditional students as being flexible, and directly applicable to the context of study, in limited periods of time. The article also mentions Muzzy Lane focused on “modular, flexible, GBL experiences that address specific needs.” Essentially, the claim is the proof is in the direct application by context and scenario in a game that illustrates a real-world situation as it applies to a career, such as nursing. The article offers no proof by direct citation of the study which it was written about, however there is a link to the study in the article. Interestingly enough, the current status of the Muzzy Lane website is down, including the report of the study in reference. Perhaps the study was pulled due to high traffic? In further research, I found the study can be accessed by directly contacting according to a recent newsletter by Muzzy Lane.

Multiplicities of adult learning

According to Snow, “games need to fit in with the life of a student who has limited time.” In other words, non-traditional students don’t want to experience game based learning in large, open world, sandbox, multi-hour long sessions, in a basement, on a multi-core computer with the latest graphics card. Games for higher ed, non-traditional students would just be a part of the curriculum that is incorporated into related parts. This again, reminds me of “ecological pedagogy,” as yet another dimension to how graduate students learn. When, where, on what device, and how much time can one spend completing a task in the game matters. It has to fit within the constraints of a busy student and adult life. The ability for a game to be played in smaller, modular chunks, on multiple devices, in multiple settings is the best way to engage these types of students.

Questions about GBL in adult learning

What was most interesting about this article were the findings of the study, which this article mentions, are completely opposite of what we have come to know after digesting the cycle one course readings in the INTE 5320 course. Particularly, as how J. Gee refers to “good games” or quality games for learning. Such as games that require 50 or more hours of play, games where you spend time modding or developing game play, etc. These games typically take many hours to engage effectively in order to understand critical components of game play and design. And the content in the game may not have any direct relationship to focus of study. In contrast, games for non-traditional adult learners (according to the article) should be extremely focused on the subject matter at hand, take small amounts of time to engage with the game, and apply to real world experience. The questions that come out of this contrast are:

Is the stark contrast to our readings due to primarily K-12 focus in cycle one readings? Perhaps in general focus of GBL? Not enough research conducted for non-traditional adult learners?

Was the study strong enough to make these generalizations? What other forms of research can we use to see how non-traditional adult learners would like to engage in GBL?

As we progress through this century, children are probably playing games in K-12 classes as part of GBL curriculum (provided it is supported at their school). Assuming this is the case, as educators, designers, and researchers, shouldn’t we be planning curriculum for these students when they become adults that includes GBL since it was most likely reinforced throughout their entire previous learning experience? 

Why is there seemingly so much less information about GBL and curriculum for adult learning when we know the average gamer is well into adulthood and would classify as a non-traditional adult learner should they be enrolled in school? (The average gamer is 35 only 26% of game players are under 18 years old.) (see ESA 2015 Essential Facts)

Credits: Image created by Kirk Lunsford source pictures of ipad and maze from wikipedia with creative commons attribution.