Skip to main content

Bridging Serious Games X eLearning Chasm

Via: Networked Learning Design – Patrick Dunn on Distinctions Between Serious Games and e-Learning

In his post I was wrong: games ARE an alternative vision, Patrick Dunn states that “games are an utterly different vision of learning, separated from e-learning by a huge and uncrossable chasm”.

He starts with a recall of his three-year old post Games are not an alternative vision. His basic argument then was that we need to get away from either/or distinctions when we're discussing Serious Games and e-learning. The latter can be very game-like; the former can be like e-learning. If we think of all the elements that go to make up an online learning experience - narrative, interactions, media, scoring, timing, user contributions, characters, questions etc. etc. - we can assemble these in various ways. Depending on the elements you choose, and how you assemble them, you move up and down a spectrum at one end of which is a "pure" game, while at the other end there's "pure" e-learning. Somewhere in the middle there's an invisible, and very blurry line.”

Now he is beginning to wonder whether he was wrong; he repositions himself by stating that games are an utterly different vision of learning, separated from e-learning by a huge and uncrossable chasm.

His first seeds of doubt were sown in a couple of projects where he was working with experienced and talented e-learning professionals who just couldn't make the leap into gaming.

According to Dunn, the distinction is not a technical one. It's about culture, values and beliefs, those invisible guides that we're not aware of most of the time, but which channel our behaviour and shape our assumptions. He further explores this distinction, by considering that there are at least four diametrically opposing belief sets underlying the two types of learning experience:

• E-learning designers believe that people learn through "content". Games designers believe that people learn through "experience".

• E-learning designers believe we must be "nice" to our learners in case they go away. Games designers believe that we can challenge people and they'll stick with it.

• E-learning designers believe that we learn step by step (hence linearity, page-turning etc.). Game designers believe we absorb lots of things all at once (leaps and discontinuity).

• E-learning designers believe that learning experiences are emotionally neutral. Game designers always seek an "angle", an attitude.

Patrick Dunn closing thought: “It's clear that there's a chasm of belief and values that sometimes just can't be bridged.”

Alternative and Inclusive Approaches – Embracing The Confusion

Some of the polarities addressed above by Patrick Dunn are quite similar to the tension that exists between experiential and didactic learning.

As I learned from Richard T. Pascale in our previous work with a global oil company, polarities are often to be managed – not problems to be solved. I’ve also learned from him how some organizations manage on the edge, using conflict to stay ahead.

The tension between traditional learning, serious games and participatory culture could well harness the future of education.

As stated by Christopher D. Sessums, at EduSpaces Social Network, “what many of us focused on teaching, learning, and computing are currently experiencing is a certain tension between top-down structures (“school”) and bottom-up forces (“learners”) that ultimately requires us to begin rethinking what the future of education should look like.”

“And like the tension surrounding the integration of new media with the old, the learner-centric/participatory concept has been surrounded by conflicting expectations from administrators and teachers who hold close to a more prescriptive/prohibitionist stance and those who subscribe to a collaborationist stance that seeks to empower learners in ways heretofore considered rare or experimental.”

“Many scholars and writers argue that we are in a period of transition where one educational paradigm is being nudged out by another.”

He quotes Henry Jenkins directly: “None of us really knows how to live in this era of media convergence, collective intelligence, and participatory culture. These changes are producing anxieties and uncertainties, even panic, as people imagine a world without gatekeepers…”

“Any early adopter of educational technology can easily agree with Jenkins’ assertion above. We are looking at a new way of thinking and engaging one another that does not map easily onto the conventional forms of teaching and learning as we know it. There is no consensus on how to work this thing, no right answers, no way to tell what far reaching effects this new media will have.”

Jenkins frames this struggle in terms of what it means to be “literate” in this era. In other words, who has the right to participate and on what grounds? Who has a voice and what rights do learners/speakers really have given current institutional constraints? Who determines how we educate our young thus determining how we shape our collective future?

Christopher adds: “The reality is, we will probably remain in a state of transition and transformation for some time. The uncertainties surrounding the convergence of old and new approaches to teaching, learning, literacy, and participation empowered by technology will continue to challenge us on many cultural fronts. When asked what I feel about this state, my response is generally Embrace the confusion!”