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Henry Jenkins on the Learning That Takes Place in Games

I came across a short but compelling interview with MIT professor Henry Jenkins at the recent interactive conference SxSWi. He heads the comparative media studies program at MIT (soon to be USC he says), where he studies the convergence between games, learning, and the web. In the clip he describes a session with 2 game designers looking at what is learned from games, how does learning take place in new ways through games, and how to design games for learning. I was particularly taken by his description of preparing students for collaboration through participatory learning. Jenkins believes schools are cutting themselves off from the “learning ecology” by blocking games, YouTube, and the like. And in the process they’re cutting off students who are the least technically connected from the best ways of learning—he says they’re “trapped behind the participation gap,” limiting their access to experiences that will allow them to become technically literate for the future.

Looking for more depth I wandered around his blog, where he explores the misunderstanding about the role games play in the educational process. There’s a lot of great insight here! He describes games not so much as programs “with content that must be delivered but rather as spaces for exploration, experimentation, and problem solving.” In other words, learning games aren’t just textbooks in a different form. They are so much more powerful because they can harness the active participation, exploration, and self-directed learning inherent in game play.

“The learning which games foster… is “undisciplined” in the best sense of the world—the child is encouraged to pursue their interests where-ever they lead without regard to the way schools divide up content or time.” For parents who care about fostering a lifelong love of learning, this is a powerful way to look at how to look at online learning games and their children’s “screen time”.

You can read more from Henry Jenkins on his blog.