Authentic Learning?  Try An MMORPG

So, last night I was enjoying a guest lecture in my Computer Based Instruction course delivered by Dr. Abdou Ndoye. Dr. Ddoye is Director of Assessment in the Watson School of Education at UNCW. His style of teaching through analogy made the concepts he was sharing with the class easy to understand.

One of ideas addressed was the difference between simple and authentic or complex assessment. Why is it, in our public schools, do we consider it a valid measure of learning to give students in a carpentry class a state-administered, multiple-choice exam to measure what they’ve learned? All to often, we fail to measure the higher-order thinking and simply test for rote memorization. Who would you prefer to hire to build your house: the student who can make an “A” on a multiple-choice carpentry exam or the one who can properly cut and nail together two-by-fours to frame a home?

My intent here isn’t to rant about the ills of excessive testing, rather to suggest that maybe we consider looking to MMORPG’s (Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplay Games) for a model of how to not only place learners in a situation where they must deal with ill-structured problems, but where they might take any number of paths to achieve learning. For example, a player in a game such as World of Warcraft might be given a complex quest by an NPC (non-player character). The NPC might ask them to journey to a nearby dungeon, collect a rare item guarded by some nasty beast, and take it across the seas and up a mountain to some other NPC. That’s fairly complex and somewhat ill-structured, right?

Is there any one, correct way to achieve that mission? No. The player might band together with a group of players to defeat the beast guarding the treasure, they may raise the funds to purchase the item from another player who has the item, or they may try to sneak past the guardian beast to steal the item without engaging in combat. Again, here’s where an MMORPG could serve as a model for more complex, computer-based instruction.

What if we created an instructional environment that functioned the same way? We ask a player/learner to start with “A” and achieve “B” all while in an ever-changing, socially rich, virtual environment. There might be many paths to achieving the goal. We, as the game’s designers, could provide the just-in-time information that the learner might use as a resource, much like a well-designed MMORPG provides player support through in-game guides and maps.

Students might choose to work collaboratively to achieve the goal. Of course, we’d provide the necessary in-game tools to facilitate that: text chat and/or voice chat. We would establish game mechanics that played on the individual’s learning styles and the multiple intelligences. Thus, a well-rounded group of player/learners might achieve more as they rely on each other’s strengths.

Would there be transfer of learning to real world situations? I can’t say for certain, but surely it’s as least as good as a multiple-choice test.