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Friday, September 11, 2009

Everything I Needed to Know...

I learned in the World of Warcraft

My mom recently said something interesting about the future of education. While watching the new Star Trek film, she noticed Spock was standing in front of a large glass screen with formulas all over it. "It looked cool," she admitted, "but how is it any different from a worksheet? Are fancier/electronic worksheets all we have to look forward to? I don't think so."

I'm part of a team here at Sonlight trying to figure out what the future of education should be (and I don't think it should be more busy work). My wife and I chat about it now and again. She's really big into the virtual worlds/gaming side of life. She also has a degree in education and teaches classes in Second Life. So her thoughts are really valuable. She said to me this morning, "It's hard to see how the current educational model will ever be toppled. And can we really learn in a completely virtual world?"

"Sure," I said. "Absolutely. Just look at World of Warcraft." Those who play will consistently, and excitedly, share what they've learned about:

  • Geography: My best friend knows more about the continents and locations of WoW than he does our world. Of course, for huge as WoW is, it's smaller than this world.
  • History: One of our friends can tell you the back story of any object, character, place, or event that you encounter.
  • Religion/Philosophy/Politics: My friends could tell you all about the motivations for the different factions, what they believe and why, and how that is affecting the current political tensions in the world.
  • Math: The "stats" system in WoW (how much this cloak will protect you from an ice breathing dragon) is a complex set of variables and definitions that rival any Algebra problem I've encountered.
  • Reading: Comprehension skills are necessary to understand a quest objective and where you need to go.
  • Writing/typing: If you hope to ever get help, you must be able to clearly communicate your requests or directions to your team members.
  • Coordinates/maps: While not built into the game, you can easily add a coordinate grid. Plus, you must become familiar with navigating a map if you hope to get anywhere in the game.
  • Science: Within the professions you can learn, you will quickly discover how things interact and what is required to produce your desired result: Smelting tin, for example.
  • Working in Groups: While you can play the game by yourself, if you hope to accomplish major tasks you must learn to work together.
  • Management Skills: Leading a group or a guild requires you to practice and hone your management abilities far better, I would argue, than a seminar because this involves real people with real backgrounds, feelings, desires and ambitions.
  • Literature: Okay, so it's not War and Peace. Of course, I've never read War and Peace. But the quest text is often a story of loss, opportunity, revenge, need, or love.
  • Craft Time: The gaming community is filled with people who pour hundreds of hours into making fan art (movies, pictures, costumes, stories) and custom content (like The Sims), and WoW is no exception. It's insane, really.
  • Programing: You learn simple coding as you make macros that make your virtual life easier.
  • But what about Socialization? Yep. You have that as well. And it's "good" socialization too because you are interacting with people of all ages from all walks of life from all over the globe.

And there's more.

"So what," you ask? "That stuff doesn't matter. It's all fake."

That's true. But it's not pointless. Here is a model that makes learning fun, natural, and desirable. It inspires and engrosses. And while not for everyone, even learning fake languages like Tolkien's Elvish or Klingon are wonderful ways to expand your understanding of linguistics. And fiction, as Sonlight consistently demonstrates, is a fantastic way to learn about our world.

Does this mean Warcraft is the future of education?

Probably not. But the virtual world opens many doors in ways that move us way beyond a fancy, electronic worksheet or digital ink book.

And an online learning opportunity may soon make homeschooling a norm.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Expectant Father


Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...


I have to put in a shameless plug for your Vroot and Vroom computer came for "maths." There are some things, like fractions and symmetrical figures, that a computer game is just more practical to use to teach than the old pencil and paper thing.

We really love it! I'm mostly a textbook kind of person, but sometimes this helps reinforce concepts or whatever. And, when you're homeschooling, you're usually the only teacher your kid has (ok, nevermind co-ops and stuff) and it's good to get things presented differently sometimes.

No, really, this is an awesome product and you really ought to automatically ask people purchasing grades 3 or 4 Singapore Maths if they want to throw it in their cart. :]

Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

bleh. "GAME." I can spell. I just didn't.

Mamadala said...

Luke, did you see this article? ( I found the idea intriguing. Probably not for everyone, but it could be great for gamers!

Joe said...

This is refreshing and entertaining to read! Love it! :)

I used to be an avid online gamer too, but time, and family, got in the way ;-) Bummer. (lol)

Dawn said...

I used to play Sid Meier's Pirates when I was younger and boy, that gives a person one heck of a good foundation of the geography of the Carribean and the Gulf of Mexico. Any Zoombinis game is fantastic for logic. My kids are currently playing Animal Crossing on the Wii which is a nice intro to basic economics. I could go on...

I always get a little sad when some homeschoolers proudly talk about how they don't allow video or computer games in their houses. They have no idea what they're missing.

Luke Holzmann said...

I got permission to post this from an email:

My 15 year old plays WOW. It amazes me because he is always telling me how he witnesses to people in game. Not in a annoying preachy way. But, sometimes just telling people he can't go on raids on Sunday morning or Wed. night will lead to neat conversations about his faith. People are truly interested because they have gotten to know him in the game and think he's fun and "normal" and then when they realize he's a Christian they are intrigued. One of his good friends he met on WOW lives on the West Coast and told him recently that he's the only Christian he knows. They talk every day and occasionally he will ask my son to pray for his family.

He also recently got a guild mate who is 21 with a 1 year old son interested in homeschooling. He led a raid and she was complimenting him on how well he did. She asked him about school and he told her he is homeschooled. She started asking him a bunch of questions and he sent her to my blog. Now she is reading my blog and seriously considering homeschooling in the future!

I tell my son it's a whole new world out there. And WOW can be a mission field just like anyplace else can. Why can't it be a example of how education should work. Obviously people are drawn to it and your right they learn from it easily.

Interesting stuff! I look forward to your perspective on life each day when I get your blog post.

Thanks for sharing!


Luke Holzmann said...

Mrs. C, thanks for the the props for Vroot and Vroom. I'll pass on the up-sell idea too <smile>.

Mamadala, I had not read that article before, but my wife loved "What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy" when she read it <smile>.

Joe, sometimes it's okay to trade family for your computer games <smile>.

Dawn, I played Pirates too <smile>. Awesome!



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Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester
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