Marc Prensky, author of Digital Game-based Learning, delivered a keynote address at the Desire2Learn Users Conference titled “Engage Me or Enrage Me.” He talked about the great divide between digital natives (the kids who have grown up in the digital age) and the digital immigrants (folks like me who came of age well before the dawn of the digital world as we know it). Prensky’s thesis is that many kids are thoroughly bored and uninterested in school because the nature of schooling has not changed much in hundreds of years. The digital natives face the same old rote memory approach to learning that we did. However, in their lives outside the classroom they are using digital tools (e.g. WWW, wireless text messaging, electronic games, MP3s, PDAs, high end software) to be creators and active participants in activities, not just passive receptors and regurgitators of information. Hence, their rallying cry at school is “engage me or enrage me.”

Prensky says that many very bright and creative kids have to turn off their brains and slow down when they go to school because they are not challenged in the ways they are, for example, playing electronic games. And lest you think that games are a waste of time, Prensky points to research that shows that kids are developing many important cognitive skills in analysis, pattern recognition, problem-solving and decision-making. In short, they are learning. And they are learning in very fun and engaging ways.

I think that many of the ills of education today are very similar to the ills of the training field. Much training today also mimics the old tell ’em and test ’em approach that is, for the most part, mind-numbingly boring. This is true for much of eLearning as well…we use new technologies to keep doing what we have always be doing (presenting information and testing on it). Prensky calls this “walking backward into the future.”

We in the training field have much to learn from the gaming industry. According to Prensky, games are engaging because they are:

  • fun (giving us enjoyment and pleasure)
  • rule-based (giving us structure)
  • goal-based (giving us motivation)
  • interactive (allowing for learning-by-doing)
  • problem-based (sparking our creativity)
  • outcomes-based with feedback (giving us learning)
  • competition-based (giving us adrenaline)
  • story-based (giving us context)

I am not advocating a games-based approach to eLearning merely so that learners can be entertained. The point is always about realizing learning outcomes in the form of changed behaviour. It’s just that you are more likely to get there if your learners are engaged in the learning.

If the folks experiencing your training are not yet yelling “engage me, or enrage me,” remember that it’s just a matter of time before the digital natives start outnumbering the digital immigrants.

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