Online Games Teach Learning through Trial and Error

By Paula Bernier September 17, 2012

It’s ok to die. In fact, dying can be a good thing.

At least that’s the belief of Melody Buckner, an employee and PhD student at the University of Arizona.

Buckner isn’t expressing a religious belief or channeling Jack Kevorkian here. Rather, she’s referring to the lessons that online games can provide to those in business, academia and life.

After watching her two gamer sons, who are now teenagers but started to play online games at 18 months old, figure out how to play these games – and without reading a manual -- Buckner started to wonder how that learning occurred and what kept them coming back for more. So she designed a study to look at how teens learn to play World of Warcraft. Although the average WoW player is in his mid 30s, Buckner interviewed nine teenage boys about their experiences with the game. She learned that collaboration among friends and fellow players helps these individuals figure out how to play and succeed at the game. Also key, she says, is the ability to learn through failure.

“It’s ok to die,” says Buckner. “Kids don’t mind failing as long as [they] can go back and redo it. In gaming, you learn from failing, and then you move on.”

Gamer image courtesy of Shutterstock.

That’s not unlike how people learn through life lessons, adds Buckner, who is an instructional designer for regional development outreach and global initiatives at the University of Arizona. 

But traditional education and older generations typically don’t encourage and aren’t comfortable with learning through trial and error, she continues. And she says that while kids will get on computer and just see what happens when they play with it, a computer class of older women she taught were reticent to touch the computers without precise instructions.

Edited by Rachel Ramsey

Executive Editor, TMC

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