Pokemon Go and Online Education

Magical Pokémon Journey

Magical Pokémon Journey (Wikipedia)

So be prepared for the flurry of edublog posts on Pokmon Go claiming that it is the future of education. My wife has been playing for the last week. We were watching Casey Neistat’s vlog and he kept running into people on the streets of New York playing it. They were everywhere. Within days, they were all over Humboldt County. She downloaded it and went to work. I am not sure how long she will last because she doesn’t seem to have the patience to deal with the crashed server or her phone crashing. At least Pokemon Go has that in common with most education technology – not built for scale. It has been a great case study watching her get into this. She has hit a few walls, found the online community to help her out, experienced extreme cognitive dissonance when she saw her first Pokemon cartoon (no, information from the cartoons does not help), and she has enjoyed minor triumphs and has run into others playing the game.  There is a lot here that instructional designers and edutech folks have seen in just about every roll-out or implementation of technology. This includes all the hand-wringing, nay-sayers who see this as the End of the World as We Know It. But Pokemon Go is successful: people are engaged, having fun, meeting one another, and the company is worth 11 million more dollars. Yes, there are some hitches: server issues, accidents, robberies, etc. But there are four ways in which the success of Pokemon Go mirrors successful online courses:

  1. Interactivity and Engagement
    The game is simply designed. In a few minutes, new users with no gaming experience can figure either how to play or learn how to learn how to play. This is great game design and good instructional design. The game-play (or learning) should scaffold skills that will allow the learner to easily move on to the next action or level. If the ball can be thrown, it will move to give you a hint. We have explored elsewhere in this blog the connection between student retention and success and interactivity in an online course.
  2. Community
    Great online courses and great online colleges encourage and build community. Pokemon Go has a built in community of gamers who can easily find one another on maps. This is also a part of engagement. This is why I think learning management systems have really missed the boat – it is so hard to shoe-horn social networks into proprietary systems like commercial LMSs. And yet, texting, messaging, Instagram, etc. is so much a part of a student’s life. The gamer world gets this: education has yet to dive in.
  3. Self-Directed
    For some students, nothing is more tedious than listening to someone explain how to do something when you know that the only way you are going to really learn is by doing it. These tend to be your kinesthetic learners. Online classes and programs need opportunities for students to take a self-directed path – either to learn the subject or to fill in gaps of missing knowledge or experience. We should be designing our courses with the same kind of scaffolding found in the best games: not just the subject matter but for the technology required for the student to be successful.
  4. Mobile
    Pokemon Go is not played on a console or a proprietary device. The company knows that the players are all using smart phones. They are leveraging the devices that the students already have – devices that players always have with them. Online learning has at least moved towards making the learning materials accessible by phone, but it is up to the teachers and instruction designers to come up with lessons that take advantage of these devices that are encyclopedias, cameras, multimedia creation platforms, and oh yes, phones. Lets put down the wax tablets and get with the program!

I don’t see a revolution or real change coming from Pokemon Go in education, but I think it is important to see how and why other online experiences are successful. The world of online education could learn from this.

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