Wow, DOD gets learning

Two years ago I held a learning conference.  A colleague invited a couple admirals.  I though it was a dumb idea, but I was blown away by their sophisticated view of human development and job training.
Today I spent an hour with a defense contractor that probably runs the biggest simulation and training business in the world.  I found the conversation about creating ‘rapid pathways to mastery’ at a whole different level than most K-12 conversations.  They get paid on outcomes (like certification to fly expensive jets) and use the most efficient mixture of classroom, simulation, and flight experience possible to get to mastery.
We discussed where massively multiplayer online learning games (MMOLG) will make a difference.  I suggested a ‘fun continuum’ ranging from compulsory use to voluntary:

  • In school: core and supplemental
  • School related: afterschool and homework
  • New schools: incorporated into the design of new formats (e.g. Quest to Learn)
  • Direct-to-consumer

Developers can, arguably, pack more learning into compulsory mmolg while consumer versions will need to meet the fun test.  The school and school related markets will be bigger for a while, but it’s conceivable that consumer learning games will be even bigger in five years.
We also discussed how learning games and augmented reality technologies could ironically mean less time indoors in the confines of a traditional version of school and more time experiencing the world with enriching and valuable contextual information.
Following up on the ‘killer app’ discussion at Philanthropy Roundtable, we discuss the functionality of smart recommendation engines including:

  1. adaptive assessment to precisely determine learning level (e.g. Wireless Generation Burst)
  2. performance (e.g. Wireless Generation ARIS responses queued in part by student performance on formative assessement)
  3. popularity/user review (e.g., DIGG, iTunes)
  4. modality (e.g., Renzulli)
  5. interest (e.g., iGoogle feeds)
  6. motivation (I don’t think we know much about the ‘hooks’ that create persistence through difficulty; maybe Reiss knows something)

But back to MMOLG, we all agreed that games, simulations, and virtual environments would soon (i.e., 36-48 months) be part of most secondary student learning routines.  STEM is an obvious application (and a great way to make science less boring), but exciting developments in history and civics are also providing rich learning experiences.
We didn’t discuss Common Core, but shared outcomes will make it easier for game and sim developers to backmap from national standards.  I’m looking forward to learning more at the training, sim, and training conference.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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1 Comment

john thompson

It seems like every day you are presenting another idea that could cut through the educational civil war. Think of the cost effectiveness of investing in dynamic computer gaming as opposed to the investments since NCLB in computer-driven worksheets. Think of what could have happened if we'd recruited a small army (or a large army) of 20-somethings to establish computer gaming programs as opposed to systems for teacher-bashing accountability? What if we'd followed the path of the military seeking technology and learning systems that relate to real world situations as opposed to artificial curriculum alignment which drives originality out of our schools.
We can't unring the bell, but the RttT (rather than degenerating into NCLB II) could unleash the creativity of the broad diversity of educators, schools, and students. We just need to reject the top down mandates that were made necessary by the blame game, and creativity will blossom. The prooof is the number of failing students who continue to try to succeed, as in the miltitary, after the formal educational system fails them.

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