Everything I Needed to Know...

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I learned in the World of Warcraft

My mom recently said something interesting about the future of education. While watching the new Star Trek film, she noticed Spock was standing in front of a large glass screen with formulas all over it. "It looked cool," she admitted, "but how is it any different from a worksheet? Are fancier/electronic worksheets all we have to look forward to? I don't think so."

I'm part of a team here at Sonlight trying to figure out what the future of education should be (and I don't think it should be more busy work). My wife and I chat about it now and again. She's really big into the virtual worlds/gaming side of life. She also has a degree in education and teaches classes in Second Life. So her thoughts are really valuable. She said to me this morning, "It's hard to see how the current educational model will ever be toppled. And can we really learn in a completely virtual world?"

"Sure," I said. "Absolutely. Just look at World of Warcraft." Those who play will consistently, and excitedly, share what they've learned about:

  • Geography: My best friend knows more about the continents and locations of WoW than he does our world. Of course, for as huge as WoW is, it's smaller than this world.
  • History: One of our friends can tell you the back story of any object, character, place, or event that you encounter.
  • Religion/Philosophy/Politics: My friends could tell you all about the motivations for the different factions, what they believe and why, and how that is affecting the current political tensions in the world.
  • Math: The "stats" system in WoW (how much this cloak will protect you from an ice breathing dragon) is a complex set of variables and definitions that rival any Algebra problem I've encountered.
  • Reading: Comprehension skills are necessary to understand a quest objective and where you need to go.
  • Writing/typing: If you hope to ever get help, you must be able to clearly communicate your requests or directions to your team members.
  • Coordinates/maps: While not built into the game, you can easily add a coordinate grid. Plus, you must become familiar with navigating a map if you hope to get anywhere in the game.
  • Science: Within the professions you can learn, you will quickly discover how things interact and what is required to produce your desired result: Smelting tin, for example.
  • Working in Groups: While you can play the game by yourself, if you hope to accomplish major tasks you must learn to work together.
  • Management Skills: Leading a group or a guild requires you to practice and hone your management abilities far better, I would argue, than a seminar because this involves real people with real backgrounds, feelings, desires and ambitions.
  • Literature: Okay, so it's not War and Peace. Of course, I've never read War and Peace. But the quest text is often a story of loss, opportunity, revenge, need, or love.
  • Craft Time: The gaming community is filled with people who pour hundreds of hours into making fan art (movies, pictures, costumes, stories) and custom content (like The Sims), and WoW is no exception. It's insane, really.
  • Programing: You learn simple coding as you make macros that make your virtual life easier.
  • But what about Socialization? Yep. You have that as well. And it's "good" socialization too because you are interacting with people of all ages from all walks of life from all over the globe.

And there's more.

"So what," you ask? "That stuff doesn't matter. It's all fake."

That's true. But it's not pointless. Here is a model that makes learning fun, natural, and desirable. It inspires and engrosses. And while not for everyone, even learning fake languages like Tolkien's Elvish or Klingon are wonderful ways to expand your understanding of linguistics. And fiction, as Sonlight consistently demonstrates, is a fantastic way to learn about our world.

Does this mean Warcraft is the future of education?

Probably not. But the virtual world opens many doors in ways that move us way beyond a fancy, electronic worksheet or digital ink book.

And an online learning opportunity may soon make homeschooling a norm.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Expectant Father

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