Saturday, March 13, 2010

Game-Based Learning: Revolutionary or Reactionary?

Do you “walk and use your feet” to get to work? Do you “work and write a report”?

Of course not. The “and” is self-evident.

So why do we use phrases like “education and technology” or “education and gaming”, as though gaming, technology, and education were entirely separate?

Why does education carry around this “and” like its very own force field?

The “egg crate school”

In How Computer Games Help Children Learn, David Williamson Shaffer argues the Industrial Revolution warped our thinking about education:

“The modern game of School as we know it was invented during the Industrial Revolution, at about the same time as the modern game of Baseball, in fact. And some of the same historical forces – urbanization, industrialization, and immigration and migration – formalized and spread both games across the United States” (34).

He argues the current system, with its emphasis on standardization and specialization, is modelled on an outdated factory model, creating the “egg crate school” (35).

We are no longer living in a factory-based society, so the factory-based school model is no longer relevant.

In fact, clinging to the factory-based model hinders our children’s ability to compete in a society that increasingly values innovation and creativity.

The belief that the factory-based model is intrinsic to education creates the “and” force field.

But what does this have to do with Game-Based Learning?

Promoting the use of game-based learning and interactive technology in the classroom is not “leading the way into the future” or any such cringe-worthy phrase. If anything, it marks a return to a much older theory of learning, one that is based on hands-on discovery and observing those around you.

This slow return to learning through experience and interaction is particularly relevant to On the Path of the Elders, an online educational resource that reconnects Cree youth with their history and culture.

The imposition of residential schools – the imposition of the egg-crate school – was a major factor in disrupting the transmission of culture and traditions. Furthermore, it promoted a way of learning that was entirely different from the traditional Aboriginal education based on experience, observing, and hands-on learning.

Do resources like allow youths to experience traditional Aboriginal educational practices through new media?

Even though modern game-based learning takes place through an online community instead of through physical interactions, the same elements are there. At, historic resources, such as audio and video clips, allow students to listen to and watch the Elders. An elaborate role-playing game encourages students to gain skills through direct experience.

So, perhaps game-based learning marks a return to older forms of learning; or, perhaps the technological element means an entirely new form of learning is starting to emerge.

If we don’t yet know the answer to these questions, we can at least start to be aware of the way we think about education in society. Next time you start to say “Education and...” consider whether or not the “and” is necessary.

Something to think about while you drink and tip a cup of coffee towards your mouth, while you’re relaxing after a long day of completing tasks and gaining professional knowledge...


Shaffer, David Williamson. How Computer Games Help Children Learn. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006.

Collette Jackson, Content and Marketing Specialist at BlackCherry Digital Media, is writing on behalf of On the Path of the Elders, a free online educational resource that explores Cree and Ojibway history and culture, and the signing of Treaty No. 9.

On the Path of the Elders launches March 24, 2010. Check it out at

For more information, email us at

Created in partnership with the Mushkegowuk Cree, Carleton University, BlackCherry Digital Media, and Pinegrove Productions.

This project was made possible with the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage through the Canadian Culture Online Strategy. Created with additional financial assistance from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and the Inukshuk Fund.

1 comment:

  1. I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.