"Computer games are more effective learning tools because they sustain interest and attention in settings where people are normally bored." Marc Prensky
I was visiting Plymouth University in the UK last year and I was looking in on one of the classes on Principles of Accountancy. There were four tables, surrounded by four students, all standing and intensely playing Monopoly. Looked like they were having what Marc Prensky overheard one of his students call "hard fun".
Later I asked the Professor why Monopoly? He told me it was a great sim that taught his students some very important principles of accounting that he had added to the game: deferreed revenue, depreciation of assets, accounting for liability, property maintenance costing and more. His creativity had taken a very simple game, added in some complex real-world concepts, and turned it into a wonderful simulation without needing to be plugged in.
Some points worth noting: From the limited research so far, when you need to learn something, especially a process, simulations teach more effectively than work done in a classrooms or with elearning. The only approach that seems better right now is eMentoring (one-on-one learning) especially on-the-job. Simulations seem to work best when they are fun, and when they do not have too high a price tag attached to success or failure. This price tag phenomenon seems to be pervasive. SAT scores for example go up when the students taking the test do not equate the score with admission to college.
Extrapolating from Dr. Isabelle Mansuy's work at the The Neuro Science Center in Zurich, published in Nature, there's an interesting reason why, on a neurochemical level, sims seem to work so well. In a more relaxed environment, the brain consolidates short-term memory into long-term learning more effectively. At the level of brain enzymes, a relaxed environment causes a decrease of a protein called phosphatase-1 (PP1). PP1 has been implicated in everything from being unable to remember where you put your keys to Alzheimers Disease. It's the protein in the brain that seem to help us forget. It increases with age so Senior Moments are a natural occurrence.
Like the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain, I think pedagogy is looking at the effect and not the cause. Sort of like the magician who waves one hand to take attention away from the other. Now what's that called?
If we are ever to really understand how to help people learn, I think we need to understand the natural learning process, you know, the one that took millions of years to perfect. Then find ways to develop learning programs - like simulations -that work to enable rather than disable that "natural learning process".
What has been your experience with natural learning? How have you successfully (or not) created programs, activities, things to do, games to play, that helped people get into the learning zone? And do you even think this perspective has any merit? Or is it back to the one room schoolhouse and all stick and no carrot?