Q&A: What's new in online learning?

Answer: The great thing about online learning is that new technologies and methods emerge regularly. Gamification, for example, is the use of games and gaming techniques to make learning more fun and engaging. Games have been used for decades in the traditional classroom, in everything from vocabulary bingo to using Jeopardy style questions and answers, but continue to increase in popularity online.

Several things are new about gamification in online education. It is part of several larger trends. 75 years ago the idea that adults would spend much of their time on games (that didn't earn them money, like professional sports) was unheard of. Now, lots of adults play games all the time, from role playing video games requiring headsets and controllers to brief game apps on their phones. Gaming is an industry, and one that has tools and designers at hand. Finally, the games that your teachers used to come up with ad hoc are now being designed consciously, as part of a theorized movement that uses technology to take theories about how to engage the brain and applies them to things like learning.

The nature of these games varies wildly, as does how much they are applied. Traditionally, online classes avoided things like real-time simulation due to bandwidth issues. (You can't easily play games in real-time when one person is on dial-up and another is on broadband.) Some schools use simulations, which are less games than game-like. (There are numerous science lab simulations.) A number of schools use role-playing games to teach strategy, problem-solving and collaboration. Some are doing so in ambitious and original ways. For example, the University of Florida recently built a course intended to teach workplace skills around the game Starcraft.

This trend will only increase as games spread, information transmission speeds up and people who grew up gaming expect similar engagement from college classes.

Greg BeattyGreg Beatty has a PhD in English from the University of Iowa and over twenty years experience in higher education. He’s taught everything from standardized test prep courses and freshman orientation and composition courses on up to serving on doctoral committees. He’s taught in the traditional classroom, correspondence courses, online courses, and hybrid courses. He’s developed curriculum for several colleges (sometimes as sole author, sometimes working collaboratively), and served as a textbook manuscript reviewer for Longman. He’s won grants for course development, and awards for his teaching. Greg has mentored new teachers and co-taught workshops on teaching excellence. He’s also served on a range of committees and college advisory boards, and has served as an area chair for humanities.