Why Educators Need to Learn About Simulations (and Games)

Approximate Reading Time: 3 minutes

Simulations (and games) are once again ‘hot’ in education – remember the “Edutainment Era” of the 80’s? Everyone seemed to think that the way to make “learning fun” was to wrap it up in some lame game. Educational Technologists and other educational designers leapt on this bandwagon with great glee. With the best of intentions they set about building educational games ‘Edutainment” without the slightest notion of what makes a game good, or what goes into game design.

The result was sad but completely predictable – the games were, for the most part, AWFUL. It is one of the primary reasons that most game developers are still highly suspicious of educators to this day.

By the way ‘edutainment’ is a loathsome word in the game industry, even though educators still insist on using it.

Ultimately, the idea of using games for learning was abandoned (the experiment failed) and OBVIOUSLY, games were to blame (certainly NOT poor design). Ergo – games are BAD.

To this day games are still banned in many schools, and the few educational games that are still being used are still awful, but the students don’t protest, because, after all, the alternative is still worse.

With Serious Games getting more and more press, educators are once again jumping on the “games motivate” bandwagon. (Serious Games, by the way, are NOT just about educational games).

Problem is, most of them STILL don’t know anything about games.  In some cases they are using the term “simulation” for the applications they build. “Simulation” sounds SO much more educational than “game”, no?

The problem is the same – people are designing these things without any real understanding of what it is they are designing. They seem to think that all they need to know is the educational part. Unless we do things differently this time, the result will be the same as it was in the 80’s.

Only not quite.

Serious Games are here to stay – the industry is getting into it, and there are rapidly growing developments in health, the military, politics, advertising, etc. Educational games are only a small part of this, and unless educators realize they need to learn something about the medium they are using, they will be left behind. Educational games and simulations will still be made, but it will be WITHOUT educator input.

Curiously, each discipline has a tendency to disrespect other disciplines, but there are a few fields where this seems to be pathological. An architect friend of mine used to complain to me that everyone seemed to think they knew as much about architecture as she did – after all, everyone lives in a house, no? But living in a house does not make one an architect. The disrespect that ‘outside’ faculty have for Education is well known within Education, but the same people who complain about how their own discipline doesn’t get the respect it deserves do the same thing to Informatics by depreciating the body of knowledge that underlies the technology they use. Using a computer application does not make one an Informatician. There are many faculty teaching in HE who really should learn something about education and instructional design, and that same principle also applies to the design of simulations, games, websites, and many other computer based applications.

The thing here is that the simulations that interest educators come from a body of knowledge that includes simulations in general. To try and ignore the foundation on which digital educational simulations are built is like doing chemistry experiments without learning anything about chemistry or the experimental process. One does not need to know everything there is to know about chemistry or the experimental process, but there is a body of knowledge that is foundational without which success is at best, random.

If you are going to make digital educational simulations, you need to know about education, and you need to know about simulations.

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Why Educators Need to Learn About Simulations (and Games) — 2 Comments

  1. Katrin writes “The problem is the same – people are designing these things without any real understanding of what it is they are designing”. This sums up so many cross-discipline problems. It is the lack of understanding from one field crossing over to another which ultimately leads to horrible results. But this is a learning process for all and collaboration should be encouraged; techies have much to learn from educators, educators have much to learn from techies, both have much to learn from users and SMEs.

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