Note: For additional information, see Marc's book: Digital Game-Based Learning


by Michal Spectre and Marc Prensky

I. Engagement: The motivating learning environment
II. Accelerated, Effective Learning: Learning Theory

III. How does this apply to The Monkey Wrench Conspiracy?
IV. References

This Paper is a discussion of the academic and theoretical underpinnings of the approaches used by games2train.com. games2train.com marries computer games and educational content into a new "Nintendo Generation" approach to learning. games2train.com designs business training solutions in the form of computer and web-based business training games and game templates. games2train.com's learning games engage employees of all ages. The underlying idea is that students learn better when they are having fun and are engaged in the learning process. All games2train.com products enable companies to insert their own fully-customized training content.

Almost all learning today, whether in classrooms or through technology, is based on a single paradigm: "tell-test."
games2train.com's learning approach is very different. There are two dimensions to games2train.com’s approach: Engagement and Accelerated, Effective Learning. To be most effective, we believe learning products must move out on both dimensions at once.


I. Engagement: The motivating learning environment
Academic research strongly backs up the common sense notion that when students are engaged in the learning process, they learn and retain more. Engagement can come though emotion, relaxation, and especially through fun. Games are a strong motivating and engaging factor.

"Enjoyment and fun as part of the learning process are important when learning new tools since the learner is relaxed and motivated and therefore more willing to learn." (Bisso and Luckner, Journal of Experimental Education, 9,2, 1996, pp 109-110.).

"In simple terms a brain enjoying itself is functioning more efficiently. So there’s a scientific basis for using art, drama, color, emotion, social learning and even games to learn." (Rose and Nicholl, Accelerated Leaning for the 21st Century, 1998, p. 30.)

"The role that fun plays with regard to intrinsic motivation in education is twofold. First, intrinsic motivation promotes the desire for recurrence of the experience… Secondly, fun can motivate learners to engage themselves in activities with which they have little or no previous experience." (Bisson and Lucker, p. 109-110.)

"Play is an important part of the learning experience. When we enjoy learning, we learn better" (Rose and Nicholl, p.63.)

"When something involves strong emotions it is usually very well remembered…It also means enjoyment, role playing, collaboration and games are important elements in learning because they involve positive emotions." (Rose and Nicholl, p. 29.)

"Games are a particularly motivating factor when there is little intrinsic motivation in the subject itself." (Dr. Frank Moretti, Columbia Teachers College.)

"Game-based courses have produced superior learning to case-based courses." (Knotts and Keys, Simulation and Gaming, 28:4 1997 p. 378)

Fun has also been shown by Datillo & Kleiber, 1993; Hastie, 1994; Middleton, Littlefield & Lehrer, 1992, to increase motivation for learners.


II. Accelerated, Effective Learning: Learning Theory

Once learners are motivated, a number of elements have been found to accelerate learning and make it more effective. They include questions, mistakes, and multiple senses; feedback and reinforcement; challenge, involvement and relevance; and "doing," through simulation and cognitive apprenticeship.


Questions, mistakes, and involvement of multiple senses
Effective learning includes the ability to ask and answer questions, make mistakes in safety, and have multiple senses stimulated.

"It is not sufficient to know the right answers. One must also know the questions that produced them." (Postman, Neil, "The End of Educaion," p.123.)

"How do we make learning successful and enjoyable? Through creating low-stress environment-one where it is safe to make mistakes, yet expectation of success is high." (Rose and Nicholl, p. 63.)

"Students move toward the right answer by making mistakes and correcting them." ( Pappert, Seymour, cited in Postman, Neil "The End of Education," p.123.)

"'Learning is about failure and recovery from failure." (Shank, Roger C., The Connisser's Guide to the Mind, p. 256)

"We learn far more by failing -- by trial and error, by making mistakes, correcting them, making more mistakes, correcting them, and so on." (Postman, Neil "The End of Education," p.123.)

"It is no accident that when words are combined with music, or words are combined with pictures, or words are delivered with emotion, they are easier and faster to learn." (Rose and Nicholl, p. 35.)


Feedback and Reinforcement
Immediate and relevant feedback and positive reinforcement are additional keys to effective learning.

"Goal theorists have found that when provided instantaneous feedback on performance, subjects will exert more effort to achieve their objective." (Janz and Wetherbe, p. 2.)

"Feedback that is information (rather than controlling) has a positive effect on inartistic motivation and work performance." (Bandura and Cervone 1983, Ingram and Bashaw 1995)

"Skills obtained from game-based courses appear to have greater validity because the game experience allows numerous iteration of decision within similar data sets, while providing simultaneous concrete feedback." (Knotts and Keys, p. 379.)

"Multimedia serves to enlist emotion as well as multiple senses to show the trainee the consequences of his or her action. This heightened informational feedback makes learning much more effective." (Janz and Wetherbe, Motivating, Enhancing and Accelerating Organizational Learning, 1999, p.8.)

"Engaging systems applied in the workplace context can offer the ability to quickly gauge the success or failure of a given performance strategy, and thus could enhance learning." (Janz and Wetherbe, p. 6.)


Challenge, Involvement and Relevance
Challenges, goals and problems which are involving and relevant to learners are also of great importance in the learning process.

"Learning, and creativity too, is a natural process that starts with goals and revolves around the desire to achieve those goals." (Shank, p. 262)

"If learning is to have personal meaning and importance in their lives, students must be actively involved in the process." (Peters, Richard. Modeling to Enhance Critical Thinking and Decision Making Skills Development in the Instructional Process: The Social Studies 1987, p.3).

"In order for individuals to be proactive they must acquire knowledge and skills through direct involvement with diverse learning situations." (Peters, p.6).

"By presenting them with significant challenges and offering real-time learning opportunities, end-users that are more engaged by the system will before likely to embrace, provide useful information to (and thus the organization), and learn ultimately improving performance as a result of using the system." (Janz and Wetherbe, p.8).

'Situated Learning' is a learning approach in which the learning is set in an environment that is similar or identical to where the learning material will be applied in the future. According to this approach when students learn in such an environment they benefit not only from the learning material that is taught but also form the culture that is in that environment, the vocabulary used and behavior associated to that environment.

"…Learning as it normally occurs is a function of the activity, context and culture in which it occurs." (Lave)


Doing: Simulation and Cognitive Apprenticeship
A final key requirement of effective learning is for learners to not just be "told" information, but to use it -- to actually perform tasks. The most effective means for this are simulation and cognitive apprenticeship.

"That education is not an affair of "telling" and being told, but an active construction process is a principle almost as generally violated in practice as conceded in theory." (Dewey, John, Democracy and Education: An Intoduction to the Philosophy of Education, 1916)

"We must, as best we can, teach students to do things rather than to answer questions about doing things." (Shank, p. 248)

"Education requires a rich and meaningful context that cannot be offered by traditional classrooms and lecture halls." (Westera and Sloep, p. 34)

"Both teaching techniques [learning case studies and learning through a game simulation] produced significant gains, but the learning increases were more substantial for those playing the business game." (Wolfe, p.368).

"One way to enhance learning is by doing." (Shank, p. 250)

Stemming from the situated learning approach, a more evolved learning theory developed called cognitive apprenticeship. In addition to placing learners in an environment that is the most beneficial, learners receive "modeling", "coaching, "scaffolding" and eventually "fading" from an expert.

"When compared with the traditional. lecture-based control group methodology, the cognitive apprenticeship treatment results were significantly more effective…" (Cash and Behrmann, p.44)

"Cognitive Apprenticeship paradigms may be used to simulate planning, production and troubleshooting situations in technical and trade programs and should be part of the array of methods practice in courses in pedagogy. Work Simulations present excellent opportunities to engage future teachers in problem-solving much like actual employment." (Cash, Behrmann, Stadt and Daniels, p. 45)


III. How does this apply to The Monkey Wrench Conspiracy?
All of the elements mentioned above are an incorporated in the Monkey Wrench Conspiracy Videogame Tutorial. First, the game context is extremely
engaging and motivating. The new users are in a safe environment where they can enter the problem solving process and make mistakes without fear of failure. They can ask questions by clicking on terms they don't understand. Video segments that model the problem solving involve the learner's multiple senses. The tutorial provides constant feedback to the learners while they use the actual software. It provides hands-on practice using the software they are learning so the immediate connection and relevance of what they are learning is apparent to the users. Since the tasks are in service of a goal (i.e. winning the game), there is high learner involvement.

In The Monkey Wrench Conspiracy tutorial the learners are situated in the environment in which they will use the tool they are learning, using the thinkdesign application. As the situated learning approach suggests, the focus of the learning is on problem solving that is meaningful and closely related to real world problem solving in their field. In the game the players are challenged by tasks they need to complete in the application to be learned in order to further advance in the game.

The Monkey Wrench Conspiracy is a simulation game since the tasks assigned simulate the kinds of tasks the learners will perform using thinkdesign in the future. Practicing these tasks during the simulation gives them the tools to cope with real-life tasks and projects. Several studies reviewed in this article indicate that playing computer games as a means of learning results in higher learning levels when compared to case-based learning.

Finally, all of the elements of cognitive apprenticeship are available in The Monkey Wrench Conspiracy. The video overview of solving the task serves as a model for the learner. The video is offered in two degrees, one is a brief overview of the task the other, is a more detailed video of how to complete the task. Coaching and scaffolding is available in the step by step section, which helps the learners while they are solving the task. So they gradually gain control over the missions they need to complete. The degree and speed of fading is up to the learners to decide for themselves. All of these sections are available for the learner to use if they choose to. Once the player gains confidence and knowledge of the application, he/she may choose not to receive the help of the neither the video nor the step by step sessions.


IV. References

Bisso, Christian & Luckner, John. Fun in Learning: The Pedagogical Role of Fun in Adventure Education. The Journal of Experiential Education (19,2) 1996, p. 108-112.

Cash, R. Joseph, Behrmann, B. Michael, Stadt, W. Ronald & Daniels, M. Harry (Southern Illinois University), Effectiveness of Cognitive Apprenticeship Instructional Methods in College Automotive Technology Classroom. Journal of Industrial Teacher Education (34,2) 1997, p. 29-49.

Dewey, John, Democracy and Education; An Intoduction to the Philosophy of Education, New York, Macmillan, 1916

Hensgens Jan, Van Rosmalen, Perter & Van Der Baaren John. Authoring for Simulation-Based Learning. Instructional Science (23) 1995 p. 269-296.

Janz D. Brian & Wetherbe C. James. Motivating, Enhancing and Accelerating Organizational Learning: Improved Performance Through User-Engaging Systems. The University of Memphis Tennessee , 1999.

Knotts, Jr. S. Ulysses & Keys J. Bernard. Teaching Strategic Management with a Business Game. Simulation & Gaming (28,4) 1997, p. 337-393.

Lave J., Situated Learning, Online - link no longer available

Peters, Richard. Modeling to Enhance Critical Thinking and Decision Making Skills Development in the Instructional Process: The Social Studies 1987.

Postman, Neil, The End of Education, Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.

Rose, Colin & Nicholl, Malcolm, J.,(1999) Accelerated Learning for the 21st Century, Dell Publishing,1997 (http://www. Accelerated-learning.net)

Shank, Roger C., The Conoisseur's Guide to the Mind, Summit Books, 1991

Westera, Wim & Sloep B. Perter. The Virtual Company: Toward a Self-Directed Competence-Based Learning Environment in Distance Education. Educational Technology January-February 1998, p.32-36.

Wolfe, Joseph. The Effectiveness of Business Games in Strategic Management Course Work. Simulation & Gaming December 1997, P. 360-373.


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