Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Learning, Games, and Future Learning

Scrabble image from Flickr User jking89: CC-BY 2.0
Over the past week or so I have started playing Scrabble again, something I haven't played for years. The affordance of technology here is that I can play my partner or my mum asynchronously using the free Wordfeud app on our iPhones. 
Through playing and reflecting on our Scrabble games, my thoughts last night (typically when trying to get to sleep) were directed towards three points (not in the scrabble sense!) I want I discuss here;

1) Do we learn differently now, or have you forgotten how to spell words as well? Generally I'm still pretty good, but from time to time I might write (or more probably type) a word that just doesn't look right. So I might ask someone how to spell that word, or being tech-enabled, use a spell checker or google. 
But at what cost does this affordance come? Are we forgetting things more easily now? We don't need to be so rigorous with spelling because the the trusty spell check will auto correct us. So we can afford to be a bit more lax. Arguably, if we still used typewriters to construct our documents we might pay more attention - perhaps if you don't use it, you lose it (in a working memory sort of way)?

2) This leads on to my second point, which is related to technology enhanced game based learning. Scrabble has always been a great way to learn new words and their meaning. In the Reed household growing up, the word 'Xu' was famous - not normally part of one's vocabulary, however it's useful to get rid of that 8 point letter 'x' at difficult times in a game. (For the record, Xu was/is a Vietnamese coin, and yes I do realise I'm not really painting the picture of the mischievous youth that some will perhaps know). 

Now playing scrabble via iPhones has somewhat ruined the game for me. I'm able to put my tiles in the board and check if it's a word without my opponent knowing. So I can (and ashamedly have) put a few random letters across a triple word score and got lucky. But I don't even know what it means! In 'real life' scrabble, you can't do that. 

So whilst we often eulogise the affordances of technology to enhance 'things', it can also have a negative influence at times, reinforcing the importance of thinking critically (why, what and how) before introducing tech solutions; not only in game situations like above, but also in relation to teaching and learning. 

3) And on to my final point, related to learning and future learning. Does it matter anymore if we either forget to spell certain words (or if youths don't know how to spell as we once did)? Previously we needed to hand-write letters and job applications, so spelling was a very important skill/literacy to present ourselves professionally (I am young enough to have never actually been required to hand-write a letter/application). The importance of accurate spelling is arguably less important now we're all wired. Knowing the rule to put 'i' before the 'e', except after 'c' (which actually isn't always true) isn't as import at as it once was. This isn't goin to solve the problems we will face (as a sector / an economy / a race) in the future, is it? And yet we still cling on tightly to these so-called essentials. Now I'm not suggesting we completely abandon spelling, but this reminds me of Ken Robinson's TED talk; 'Schools kill creativity', and his example of the young girl who 'wasn't any good in school' as she was fidgety and couldn't concentrate. As it turned out, she was highly creative and became a leading ballerina. Horses for courses, one might say.

We can't solve problems of the future with the same type of thinking we used when they were created (was that Einstein?). So perhaps if we want to prepare for the future, we might have to let go of some of the inherent things of the past? 

I've embedded the Ken Robinson talk below - a worthy watch if you're one of the few who haven't already seen it.


  1. I like this Peter and the thing that your post has prompted me to think about is the human interaction of games. I also loved to play scrabble, trivial pursuits and things like cluedo as a kid. I don't really play that many games (other than Poker ;-) online

    Sunday nights were games nights and it was great to play as family and whilst I know I was lucky to have this. The games allowed us to connect as a family and in my case tease my sister but essentially it was the interactions of playing games face to face that brought the fun and interactions required to really enjoy the game and banter win or lose. It taught us the rules and how to play and also gamesmanship and team work.

    My 4 year old is tech mad (wonder why) and loves to play games and whilst I'll encourage him to continue to play electronic games in moderation we have already started Sunday night games night with funny faces and Guess Who and other games.

    It's the human interaction in these early years that I believe can help shape the attitude, approach and ability to play games and to help them be creative and play.....this can then move on to electronic games and develop critical skills in school and beyond like you describe.

    I agree the future will incorporate more and more technology but I agree we shouldn't forget the importance of human play and playing games together and having fun - this is critical to the learning process


    1. Hi Mike,

      thanks for the comment.
      Quite heartwarming - I think it's important to embed those family values - I don't have kids at this point, but emphasising family time is something I would likely do.

      In the post I pretty much focussed on serious things - Kids learn a lot from games (tech or not) but it's the type of games, and as you say, moderation which is key. I like the 'softer' things you have mentioned, which I didn't think about initially, so thanks :-)


  2. Learning is really fun when games are incorporated. Especially those classes that are somewhat boring like accounting training.