The answer to that question – between Youtube, repositories like iTunes U and the Web archive – is ‘just about anything’, so let’s narrow it down.
What can you learn online these days through videogames?
The answer to THAT, surprisingly enough, is ‘just about anything’ too. Atleast in potentia.
The magic snake-oil making all this possible is a nifty little buzzword called ‘gamification’ [PDF link] – i.e the use of game design techniques like points, high scores and achievement badges to make learning more engaging and effective.
Will LAN parties be the classrooms of the future? Reuters
Here’s roughly how it works. You complete a lesson or task successfully, you gain points – placing you on a ‘high-score’ list of that site’s users. Chaining together tasks earns you ‘badges’ and ‘achievements’, which also reward you for being persistent, spending more time than necessary on the site, and completing a task faster than anybody else. It sounds rather banal when put like this, so this is the core of fancy buzzwords like ‘emotional engagement’ and ‘immersion engineering.’
Gamification sneaked its onto the Internet a few years ago, mostly in the form of smartphone apps (like EpicWin) and enterprise applications that used these techniques to improve user and employee engagement.
The leap to learning and education is happening now. There’s jam-hot startup Codecademythat promises to teach even complete n00bs programming skills. As one of these aforementioned n00bs, I can attest to the effectiveness of the approach. They’re also the folks behind Code Year, an initiative to increase computer-related literacy and bring coding and programming out of it’s insular ghetto.
For an interesting take on this idea, try coderacer.me – which lets you play ‘races’ with friends on Facebook to see who can code the fastest.
Cyberpunk author William Gibson is supposed to have said (though no one can remember where) that the ‘Future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed.’
The future of Gamification is similar. While programming education is all over the place (and already here), other fields are catching up.
The famous Khan Academy is taking it’s first step towards ‘gamifying’ it’s diverse syllabus – adding points, badges and an ‘exercise dashboard.’ DrawSpace offers drawing lessons in a customizable, achievements-based spiral of increasing complexity. Spongelab tackles basic science education, while Memrise offers foreign-language training (including a wonderful flagship Mandarin Chinese program).
But let’s not carried away. Gamification is also rightly seen as sometimes being a cheap, shallow alternative to building actual, complex, responsive systems. As one particularly brilliant blog post points out, even the term is a misnomer. Points, badges and achievement aren’t what games are about at all…and calling it that narrows the rich breadth of emotional reactions games ARE capable of eliciting. If anything, the post argues, Gamification is nothing but ‘Pointsification’, and the difference is name is more than just pedantic. Pointsification is the logical evolution of the use of comparative mechanisms and reward structures for motivation.