When video games started to become very popular, many educators thought these games could greatly improve learning, because, well, they were so much fun. And students of all ages really loved to play them. It hasn’t entirely worked out that way. The reason being that games present a different kind of learning than we are accustomed to. The best games allow you to learn through discovery. And discovery learning is not something that is done very often in education, but it is most certainly something that there needs to be more of, and especially in adult education.
Gaming in learning started out simply as an extension of Drill-and-Practice. You could play games like Scrabble or Trivia Pursuit to practice basic skills such as spelling or factual recall in history/social studies. But games have evolved to a much larger purpose than drill-and-practice. Often called Serious Games, these games are rooted in some academic knowledge and have almost reached the level of a simulation. Sim City is probably the best known serious game. You can build a city and consider all of the real world factors that can influence the success of a city, or the demise of one.
Sim City provides a great learning experience in the area of Urban Planning. But educators have a hard time with allowing a student to experience something without a strong foundation in objectives. Educators love to determine exactly what students should know, teach it to them, and then give them a test on them. Nothing but right answers are considered worthy. But can you learn from failure? You most definitely can. Failing at a task such as building a city in Sim City can be every bit as educational as what is learned from building a successful one.
Within business and industry, there has always been a pronounced need to allow people to take risks and “fail.” Failure can provide valuable lessons that can be a stepping stone to succeeding at something much more important. We need to bring this emphasis on failure within the field of learning. As an supplemental activity to learning certain principles, such as within Urban Planning, teachers should let students learn through discovery. If they fail, they can cite the reasons why they failed, and this can be the learning experience itself. Achieving a right answer isn’t the only way to learn, and failure can be much more meaningful and memorable. Allowing students, and especially adults, to deeply experience events, rightly or wrongly, can provide a new and potentially more effective way to learn. And they can have a lot of fun doing it!