A Case for Game-Based Learning

Professionally, I haven’t used a single bit of knowledge I learned in college. But, I did build a highly successful career on one thing I realized on my own during those days…

My dream as a child was to be a radiologist. Practical person that I am, I rationalized it was the perfect marriage between technology and medicine, 2 things I was really interested in. I was above average smart and highly dedicated to working hard. I could easily become a doctor, right?

My freshman year at Texas A&M, I was confident in my abilities so I signed up for chemistry 101 and biology 101 in the same semester. I had no problems with the subjects in high school and could easily replicate my successes here I thought. So, against all advisors recommendations, I proceeded to set myself up for failure.

There’s a reason they call those classes ‘weed-out’ classes!

Chemistry in particular was insanely brutal. The class had probably 300 students and performance in the class was so bad that an ‘A’ grade had been adjusted down to just 40 points. I had a high ‘C’ with a grade of just 27. I attended every single class (sitting in front), took meticulous notes, and spent every available night doing extra experiments with an AP I could find. I was doing the work so how could this be beating me so badly?

It wasn’t until the semester ended that I realized my gaff and how the system had failed me. From kindergarten through high school, the school system taught us to hear the lecture, absorb the information, and spit it back to them come test time. Every day it’s sit down, listen, take notes. Study notes for test, get good grades. Bang, bang, bang, easy.

In college, professors intentionally don’t cover all the material. Questions are asked on test that weren’t even close to being mentioned in class. You’re expected to learn through self discovery. Unfortunately, America’s youth isn’t being trained for that style of learning and I was completely lost.

It was through these struggles that I learned what college was really about. You’re there to learn HOW to learn.

My first job out of college was IT support for a Fortune 500 real estate title document company. Our mission was first to build the world’s largest database on title closing documents, then build a search engine around it. Just weeks onto the job, despite working with much older people, I was already excelling. There was one simple reason for this.

There are 2 types of people in the IT industry… the WHYs and the HOWs. I took the time to understand not just how, but WHY the system worked. This allowed me to invent solutions to issues in the system that had never been experienced before. Others were stuck if it wasn’t a command they could just copy / paste to get the answer. I recognized immediately that there was not only a training issue, but a learning motivation issue deep within the industry.

In my experience, 90% of people are HOW people; mindlessly trudging along. They haven’t learned how to think for themselves. A likely cause for this is the way we learn. Primary schools abandon self-discovery in favor of lecture. Consequently, we stop thinking for ourselves and instead simply regurgitate facts. The problem with this is exactly the scenario I faced in college. What if the teacher doesn’t provide all the facts? You’re left with a class full of college freshmen acing the 40% we’re told and failing the rest.

I believe if our children stayed in a learning mode of self discovery throughout their youth, college might not have any more ‘weed-out’ classes.

We therefore must find platforms for students that allow them to explore the material they’re learning. Education must be a collaborative experience. Almost no jobs in the real world are done in isolation (and even if they are, you’d be better at what you do in isolation if you were bouncing ideas off someone else offline). Learning through self discovery takes more time and energy than quick lectures, so the platform must be fun and a space that doesn’t seem like work.

Not so coincidentally, these are the strengths of video games.


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