Self-Directed Learning in Games

I recently started playing Glitch, my first MMORPG. I’ve decided that I need to explore MMORPG skill building as part of trying to sort out my own thoughts on education reform and game-based learning. I was about to surrender to the insanity that is WoW. (I may still if I can ever choose a name for my character.) And several people pointed me toward Glitch, saving me while still giving me somewhere to think.

Glitch is billed as a kid-friendly MMORPG, and the play is certainly simple enough. You explore the world, go on quests, and try to beat other players to resources. (Having years of Mario experience has really helped me edge out people for XP and currants, the game’s currency.) But you spend most of your time trying to collect resources in the form of catching coins, digging up dirt, mining stones, and petting trees. Okay, so you also water and harvest the trees, but you pet them. And you massage butterflies. It’s a little odd. None of that really matters because what you’re really doing is “grinding”, or doing boring, repetitive actions to gain what you need to do the bigger, cooler things. Really, it’s the game equivalent of homework.

Speaking of learning, there is a wide range of world-relevant skills for you to learn. You can choose to learn how to cook, to create, to perform alchemy. It’s up to you to decide what you want to learn and in what order you want to learn them, provided you have the appropriate prerequisite skills. In real life, I’ve been known to screw up macaroni and cheese while making herbal tea for allergies, so in the game it was no surprise that I started working on learning paths that lead me toward herbology and away from cooking. I’ve also taken up with alchemy, even though I found chemistry fun but challenging, and tinkering, when it’s been years since I took something apart and put it back together.

But these were my choices. I had choices to make involving my in-game learning, and I chose to make them similar to my real-world interests. I have also recently fallen in with The Sims Social, where I do practice cooking, but I also pursue writing and music (which I have a real-life background in). The only reason I want to try out World of Warcraft is because they created the archaeology profession, something I might have considered doing if I weren’t so in love with teaching math and science.

While skills learned in a game don’t translate into real-world skills, it can be a chance to explore how you might see the world differently if you pursued a different set of skills than the ones you really have or even to help you see what skills you really are drawn to. Developing your in-game learning paths can also give you a structure for developing your own real-world skills, complete with proposing you include  some sort of mastery project as proof of your learning. Wouldn’t it be fun if we were taught to make these types of learning plans by something that wasn’t a video or computer game?

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