Monday, April 09, 2007

World of Warcraft and the Future of Education

I’m getting old. For me, video games don’t hold the same excitement they did when I was younger. I’ve rescued the princess, I’ve conquered the huns, what else is there to do?

So it was some time before I got around to trying World of Warcraft (WoW). Sure, the game is popular, but could it really be good enough to warrant paying $15 a month?

Good enough, indeed.

But I’m not posting to heap praise on WoW, though it rightly deserves it, or give a review, since you can find them all over the net. I wanted to talk a little about the education and learning that happens while playing the game.

My profession as an instructional designer means I’m constantly looking at the world through an educator’s eyes. What makes something interesting? How do we learn? What is the best way to instruct?

WoW has a lot to teach us.

For those familiar with the game, stop and think about it; what do you have to know to succeed in the game? You can’t just buy a level 60 druid on ebay, there are simply too much information that must be learned. If you haven’t built your character from the ground up, you will be completely lost. You simply have to learn the ins and outs of the game. You must master the geography, logic skills, problem solving skills, free market economics, a bit of number crunching, and of course you have to work/play well with others or you’re hosed.

So how does one go about learning all of this? Don’t look for a local community class. There are no ‘professors’ of Warcraft that will take your money and lecture in a classroom on how to succeed in the game. There is what you might call a ‘textbook’, though relatively few people buy and refer to it. But the game does demand real knowledge and skill, and you won’t succeed if you don’t laern. So how do players learn without a teacher? Is that even possible?

The answer can be found in guilds.

A guild is a group of users who pool their knowledge and skills to help each other progress. There is a benefit to helping others because some quests or parts of the game just can’t be done on your own. If you have a group of friends who are at similar levels, you can all do better at the game. And if you help your buddy Jim when he needs it, there is a really good chance he will help you when it’s needed.

So information is shared, gold and items are given away, and events are scheduled so that all may benefit and increase in knowledge and skill.

In a traditional setting there is one expert who lectures, or writes a book, and then students sit as his/her feet and lap up what is given. It’s a traditional model, and one that has worked well for a long time. But who is to say a new model wouldn’t work just as well? You might be surprised at the level of expertise that a mob can offer. I don’t know everything there is about the American civil war, but I know a lot. And I can find out even more. If I combine that with what you know about the civil war, and what John and Sally, and 50 other people know, suddenly all of the pieces start to fall into place. Suddenly you have something like Wikipedia, that while may not be perfect, is pretty darn close.

I believe that the education of the future comes not in a classroom, listening to a professor, but with interacting with a whole lot of other people who are seeking the same information. There will always be a need for experts, and we will pull from them their knowledge, but we won’t necessarily need to interact with them. We won’t need to sit in their class, or ask them questions. We will refer to their work quite often, but we will do it while building our own knowledge with our friends.

I’d write more, but my character is almost to level 47, and the guild is waiting.

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