The Department of Design, a collaboration between the Netherlands and South Africa, recently held a Serious Gaming Festival to explore how this field can impact planning, idea generation and collaboration. Marcus Vlaar, one of the founders and Chief Creative Officer at Ranj Serious Games, gave a fascinating keynote about The Ancient Learning Method of the Future.
A veteran in the field, Marcus explained that his company has created around 400 serious games, many for corporates with the goal of developing key competencies and testing those skills in a game-based simulation context. One game has the player managing a global flu pandemic, in another the players are staff at a multinational pharmaceutical company learning about ethical and business compliance by being tested with real life dilemmas.
One of their latest projects, and I think the most interesting, takes a holistic view of a user as she works through a number of the games (each game is usually a discreet experience). By adding a meta-layer over the existing games, Dex, as the project is called, tracks usage over time and feeds user activity into an expert system that measures competence levels. By aggregating and analysing this rich data, Dex can report to the user, and her employer or educational institution, for example, how she is developing different competencies and recommend which ones she needs to focus on.
The concept of taking a holistic view of a student as she progresses along a learning path is certainly not new. Digital learning systems allow for data to be captured and analysed in order to, over time, paint a picture of a learner where progress is made visible and problem areas are exposed. Some educational offerings, such as the Khan Academy, are already doing this to a certain extent. Khan’s learning dashboard tracks a user as she works through the body of content and assessments.
Through intelligent tracking the lofty goal of learning analytics, that enables personalised and adaptive learning, can be achieved. While everyone knows it’s a great idea, achieving learner analytics is very difficult to get right, especially when you want to track learners across a number of different educational products and services — much like what Ranj is doing with its games. It requires building effective data systems — as Pearson is aiming to do — that can capture usage activities, share that data across different applications (easier said than done!), and analyse the data using comparable metrics. So the “critical thinking” metric in the flu pandemic game needs to be the same as the one in the pharmaceutical business compliance game. What is needed is a single view of a learner across a period of time. This is at the heart of Pearson’s efficacy goal of putting learning outcomes at the centre of all its educational offerings.
Increasingly online companies are tracking our usage paths through the Internet, e.g. Google’s single sign-on is not only for its many Google products, but also for partner organisations that require user authentication. It is essential that educational institutions also take a more holistic view. For the first time in the history of the world it is theoretically possible to track and guide a learner from kindergarden to PhD graduation, and beyond. Surely we should prioritise the building of interoperability and intelligence into all of our learning products and services. It will take years — even decades — for organisations to get this right, but whoever cracks the nut first will definitely have a key advantage and be taking learning in the right direction.