Are schools tutorials for life?
Most people playing video games probably know about tutorials, for both good and bad. Basically, tutorials exist to teach players how to play a game.
Some tutorials are removed from the actual game, and sometimes you don’t even get to play a tutorial, but merely read about how to play. In other cases, the tutorial is tightly integrated with the actual game, and you may not even notice, that you’re playing a tutorial.
In their essence, tutorials are always about learning, and thus I’d argue that designing good tutorials have important things to tell us about designing good educations.
Many game developers are talented at designing tutorials that work really well, and one such developer, PopCap, did a presentation on the topic at the recent Game Developers Conference, covered by Gamasutra. Reading about how PopCap eminently designed the tutorial for the absolutely hilarious, wacky Plants vs Zombies, I couldn’t help but wonder:
A tutorial prepares you to participate in and master the game, whereas school prepares you to particpate in and master life (at least in my ideal perception of school). So we might say that a tutorial is to a game, what school is to life, right?
Let’s look at PopCap’s ten principles for designing great tutorials in games:
- Blend the tutorial into the game
- Better to have the player “do” than “read”
- Spread out the teaching of game mechanics
- Just get the player to do it once
- Use fewer words
- Use unobtrusive messaging if possible
- Use adaptive messaging
- Don’t create noise
- Use visuals to teach
- Leverage what people already know
Some are more specific to games than others, but just looking at the first two reminds me of a few of the most prominent flaws of most of todays educations.
The first one might be the one which resonated the most with me. I often talk about how education should not be isolated from society, but rather be an active part of the world, influencing the society we live in (for instance here & here). When a tutorial is disintegrated from the game, it is most often boring, the lessons learned are difficult to apply, and it all seems a bit abstract. The same goes for school being disintegrated from society. Lessons become abstract, difficult to apply and – too often – boring. Useless is a strong word, but we might in too many cases be moving in that direction, sadly.
The second principle lies in direct continuation, stating that we shouldn’t merely read about how to play a game, but rather just be allowed to actually play the game. As regards school, we shouldn’t just read about how this or that aspect of the world works (or be exposed to traditional one-way teaching), but we should rather explore and interact with that world - do something in the world.
I like thinking about schools as a tutorial to life, and I think there’s some quite valuable lessons to learn here.
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