Quit gaming around – We have work to do – Goals & Realities of Learner Theory

Reading Gee’s book often had me thinking that some of his principles of learning were an act of re-inventing the wheel (saying something other disciplines have said in other ways before).  The more learners I engage with throughout my graduate studies or in my day job the more engrossed in learning theory I find myself.  At work my students vary from young administrative staff to older lawyers and corporate executives.  I teach my corporate students how to work with my company and maintain their intellectual property portfolios with respect to international IP law.  Therefore, I currently find it hard to relate to the sentiment that “Learning should be frustrating and life enhancing.”  Not only is the landscape of my “classroom” constantly changing, but the “affinity groups” and existing domain knowledge of my “students” is either unknown or unlike my own.  I suppose if I help a client understand the aforementioned business factors more readily they will have improved day-to-day practices both within their roles, but also in relationship with others sharing that domain content knowledge/experience.

Like many others, I have little experience with “gaming” and I consider myself a novice at best of very old games (but I can play a guitar decently and sing).  I also have my own opinions on some of the psychosocial drawbacks of gaming that are not mentioned in Gee’s book.  That being said, I’d love to have time to devote to practicing things that are entertaining as well as brain exercises that would lead to greater critical thinking skills.

No matter the type of learning being examined (Gaming, Academia, Corporate America/Earth), the concept of situated cognition is fundamental to any sort of individualized analysis in relation to the personal, material, social, and cultural world (9).   But without the psychological and emotional make-up of our learners we’re viciously lacking in variables, left to guess and check (probe-re-probe-re-think) ourselves.  At work, I called this the adaptive training service model.  Despite this, Gee’s taxonomy of learning principles is quite comprehensive even though his examples are drawn from only one domain and very few test subjects.  The multitudinous connections that are identified through such studies are difficult to generalize upon even when only looking to himself and his son as learners.  Even more essential to his points on critical and active learning is the fact that both he and his son are motivated learners who regularly actively reflect and strive for new meaning.  Their meta-cognition likely far surpasses half of the population that is considered below average.

Don’t get me wrong, I promise I am not always this cynical (maybe I just had a particularly futile day at work).  Perhaps, I am just skeptical and left with several doubts when trying to apply these principles outside of the domain of video games.  Learning Principle No. 6: The “Psychosocial Moratorium” Principle states that while the learner is learning the consequences are much lower than they would be in the real-world.  I would compare this to any simulated training environment such as N.A.S.A. space simulation or practice projects in the workplace.  Both are used to create a “safe” space for learning.  Additionally, Learning Principle No. 10: Amplification of Input Principle state that as a learner applies him/herself to learning their level of effort or time spent practicing (input) is exponentially rewarded with “outputs.”  I’m left wondering: Can a learner discern the outputs from within the realm of the psychosocial moratorium?  Is the learner being rewarded in their room with the padded walls?  In real-life, in a workplace, are the outputs of learning your job always tangible?  Of course not!  So, despite learning how to make learning fun from video games we are still left to confront reality.  I am willing to put reality aside in lieu of critical learning, even if the only output is annihilating your previous “regime of competence.”  It seems to me what we have to impress upon our students is not learning in the guise of a game/design space, but learning in a goal space.  Whether or not a person is goal-driven may be because of their nurture (i.e. how they were brought up/their experience), but I’d hope that it is open for revision.  Gee would likely hone in deeper to discuss the differences therein of process oriented individuals vs. reflective learners.  Considering only about half of our population is goal driven and an even smaller percentage actively reflects and reassesses those goals, the task at hand is lofty. Needless to say… I am left wondering.

3 thoughts on “Quit gaming around – We have work to do – Goals & Realities of Learner Theory

  1. Liz MacLean

    “It seems to me what we have to impress upon our students is not learning in the guise of a game/design space, but learning in a goal space.”

    What a great sentence, and a great observation. I always wonder how much I should be telling my students about what my goals are/their goals should be. On the micro level, I’ve seen a lot of classroom activities modeled that have the effect of, essentially, “punking” our students. For example, telling students they have to craft a text message that will be disseminated over an emergency broadcast system and then saying, “SURPRISE! YOU JUST WROTE A THESIS!” They usually appear unimpressed with my grand “reveal.” What if I’d just said, up front, “Hey guys, today we’re gonna talk about thesis statements. And you know what, thesis statements are kinda like text messages. So the activity we’re going to do is….” Would they have appreciated the exercise more for knowing what the goal was?

    On the macro level, I spend almost no time explaining how what we’re doing in the course I’m teaching is supposed to tie in with the student’s professional/personal/academic goals. This is for several reasons. One, I don’t know WHAT these students’ goals are. So it seems a little patronizing to say, “oh, well you will need these skills” when for all I know they’re all planning to join the circus. Two, there’s no way for me to know how well what I’m teaching fits in with what my students need/already know. For some of my students, the thesis exercise is a boring “duh” that they’ve been experts on since middle school. For other students, the thesis statement remains an elusive concept, and the text message analogy rings something at least like a bell, if not an actual bell. Three, I feel that whatever I might do to connect more personally, on either the classroom or individual level, with the students on their goals wouldn’t be an appropriate use of class time. I’m not trained as a counselor or therapist or career advice-giver (though I do all of those things often, informally, as a teacher or in other professional roles), so I feel like I need to stick to the task at hand, which is helping students practice their writing.

    All that said, though, I come back to your idea about promoting goal spaces, and I DO think it would be appropriate to coach students to do this kind of thinking for themselves. As in, we’re here today to practice writing thesis statements. We’re going to do that by imagining them as text messages. Each of you may have a different goal in mind that can be achieved by advancing this skill — take three minutes to jot a couple thoughts down about that, and then we’ll get started…something like that, I think, would be an appropriate use of three minutes of class time, and a great way of modeling for students that goals are things they should be actively thinking about, whether on the micro or macro level.

    1. rcowan2 Post author

      Thank you for illustrating my point so “actively” (to borrow one of Gee’s favorite tenets of learning). At one point, you ask whether discussing your personal goals might not be an appropriate use of class time, to which I’d answer, Maybe not, but don’t you think it might give more credence to your ultimate “teacher” agenda? I agree there may be a fine line between counselor-like behavior and teaching to motivate goal-driven learning, but somewhere in this liminal space we have the ability to humanize ourselves, our students, and the work itself. This is not quite the same at all, but whenever I am training and “servicing” (no pun intended) my clients through frustrating circumstances I’m not only coaching and mentoring them through projects but also teaching them how to project manage. The best relationships I’ve cultivated have been with the one’s whom I’ve told are “My goals are (fill in the blank) and my goals for you are (fill in the blank). Is there anything else you would like to accomplish while we work together?” As other articles have suggested, this might produce the scenario where students are in fact doing much of their work “for” the teacher, but perhaps, it is also a space in which the teacher can model and incite goal-driven behavior as inherently motivating in whatever task at hand. Just voicing our goals at the start of a class, meeting, or beginning of many months of working together is something we can remember when we accomplish them and congratulate eachother upon. Too touchy feely? Haha!

      1. ssexton2

        Great points! I think the concept of learning in goal space depends on the students and the learning environment. I approach setting goals differently if I were dealing with my students in a public school/college environment than in a training setting. I have practiced goal setting in both environments – as a teacher and as a literacy coach training other teachers. My approach has been different in those two environments. As a literacy coach I had to work closely with each teacher and set personal goals, but as a teacher I addressed goals more generally.

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