UKEdMag: What Pokémon Go tells us about experiential learning

The timing was immaculate. Following the global reporting, Pokémon Go launched just in time for the school holidays. Children, teenagers, and adults were all getting out, walking around with smartphones in hand all searching for elusive Pokémon characters to capture, receiving rewards and medals the more players walked and collected the bizarre creatures around their localities.

This article originally appeared in the September 2016 edition of UKEdMagazine
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Compare this to the release of new games during your childhood. Yes, in the main, they were fun; kept you inside your house or bedroom’ and notably came with reams of instructions which needed to be carefully deciphered to correctly play the game. Of course, there were the mavericks who would go forth and attempt to play the games without consulting the instructions, but when playing with others, reference would need to be made back to the instructions for clarity and avoid arguments.

Enter Pokémon Go, and other games based on electronic devices. They don’t necessarily come with a clear set of instructions on how to play the game. There is guidance, but rules are discovered as the player immerses themselves into the challenge. Many other electronic games are eagerly opened, with players diving straight into the challenges, learning from mistakes as they become masters in the augmented world they have entered. Just see how pupils quickly understand Minecraft, Grand Theft Auto, and many other games found on consoles around the world.

Children aren’t scared of technology, with research from Sugra Mitra showing how children in remote areas of India soon become proficient using a technology that they had previously never been exposed to. If people are stuck in completing a task or want to acquire a new skill, where do they look nowadays? Either Google or YouTube will have the answer hidden in their catalogue of search results.

How we learn is changing. Or, to put it another way – we are rediscovering the power of learning through experience. Experiential Learning is in our genes. Without it, our species would not have evolved to where we are today. Yet, in the main, education systems around the globe are guilty of ignoring this, exposing students to narrow strands of the curriculum, all in a bid to raise exam results and standards. There is surprise when pupils are deemed to have failed such exams, as they were given texts and printed sheets with the answers that would be needed to pass the exam. However, there is little opportunity for pupils and truly experience their learning, beyond sitting passively in a classroom.

So how can education take a leaf out of the book used by technology companies such as the makers of Pokémon Go and the likes? Well, one of the main challenges is to add meaningful and engaging experiences to teaching and learning. Early Years colleagues are experts at this, providing a space to experience activities, make mistakes, learn from others, and progress in their own learning, making connections to how these skills can be used in their lives.

Educators are best placed to help students enthuse and improve on a traditional school subject, but with that is the responsibility to let pupils experience that subject on different levels, using different materials, and with a positive attitude towards continuing learning.


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