Virtual Worlds as Teaching Tools

Posted by | January 2, 2009

As gamers, we know games are incredible learning tools. Just look at everything you’ve memorized to pwn noobs in AV, right? Hell, you knew what I meant when I said “AV.” That’s learning. On and off, the educational community has been considering the potential of games to teach real lessons in science, math, and reading, but the efforts have always been local and half-hearted. With the rise of social gaming (like, say, the World of Warcraft that Alterac Valley comes from), the scale of gaming has changed. This change allows more gamers to experience the lessons a game might teach.

The educational video games Food Force, a U.N.-produced game on the mechanics of food aid distribution, and Whyville, another game that takes place in a virtual world, each has about 4 million players, a number that far exceeds the number of students graduating each year with a bachelor’s degree in science, technology, engineering or math, writes Merrilea Mayo, director of future of learning initiatives at Kauffman Foundation, an institution established in the mid 1960s to promote entrepreneurship. “Although traditional education institutions pride themselves on educating citizens,” she writes, “they do so at a relatively small scale compared with the media now available.”

Myself, I have to wonder about games that place the student directly into the professional use of college level courses, say, a MMO game that involved a realistic hospital to train people in medicine. Maybe a virtual justice system that presents all the information, and its use, you’d need to secure a really-real law degree. I’ve heard it said that on the job training is the best way to learn, but what about entire courses and classes presented that way in a virtual MMO game?

You can read the Scientific American article here.

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