Pokemon Go: The Future of Learning?

Pokemon Go ImageIn the years I have spent developing ways of using technology to create effective learning experiences for humans, I have found that learning technology peeps are famously distractible. We have a tendency to look at the newest and shiniest objects and project our hopes and dreams on them. Sometimes, the new thing really does offer some exciting opportunities to help people learn on their own, or together with others. More often, it offers a way to enhance tried-and-true strategies. And sometimes, it really detracts. There are actual studies which have proven, among other things, that it’s not good to present text contemporaneously with an audio track that reads that text to the learner. That “fun graphics” which do not actually illustrate the concept being explained make it harder for learners to take in the concept. But as a class of people we remain extremely vulnerable to the lure of the new.

An article crossed my desk this morning asking “Is Pokemon Go the Future of Learning?” Sigh. Trust me when I tell you that unless you are trying to help people learn how to play Pokemon Go, the answer to this question is “No.” Just “No.”

Humans learn lots of valuable lessons through play. There have been heartwarming reports of autistic individuals finding new ways to socialize around their enthusiasm for this engrossing pastime. So I’m on board with those who think Pokemon Go is probably a good thing. It’s ok for something to be fun. We don’t have to attach messianic hopes to it.

I’m disappointed by the way people in my field confuse engagement with entertainment. Engaging learning experiences are those which encourage the learners to see meaning in the task or concept they are learning. Facilitating that phenomenon requires thoughtful development of curriculum and exercises, and often, practice under the supervision of an encouraging coach. Sometimes, structuring that practice as a “game” can be useful. “Gamification” of learning however, is just one tool. It does not, and cannot comprise “The Future of Learning.”