Classrooms are obsolete (and so are teachers)


“Oh no” I can hear you say, an article about education. Boring. Yet it should be one of the most exciting things you can read about. It is the education industry and their heritage that have made it boring. And if it is boring for us then just imagine how boring it must be for the victims of our current system. Let’s face it, standing a teacher in front of a class must be one of the most inefficient methods of imparting knowledge ever invented.

We are massive consumers of education. We start in formal education as toddlers and emerge in our 20s. Often none the wiser. And we learn far more out of school than we do in school. Then we have vocational training, usually continuously in our fast changing world. Plus our hobbies and interests that can often involve absorbing more knowledge than a degree course. Which all means that education is a massive industry. Far bigger than the recreational game industry is going to be for the foreseeable future. Which is very nice for us because gaming is perfectly suited to education. Far more so than the current classroom/teacher system. Our one on one, challenge-reward mechanism is the most perfect way yet of imparting knowledge.

I have watched our industry try to get into education for thirty years. And failing, continually. Because we try to do learning using games. We try and fit in with the old, inefficient teacher led systems. But we have had successes when we don’t try to fit in. Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training, for instance. And these successes come when there isn’t a teacher in sight, because they are true game based learning. And teachers and true game based education are incompatible. You cannot have them both at the same time.

Teachers, at best, think that games are chocolate coated broccoli. A way of dressing up knowledge to make it palatable. They are wrong. Gaming is the optimum delivery system for giving the human mind knowledge. Because it is one on one interactive, because it creates exactly the right challenges at exactly the right time, because it can readily mix text with sound with pictures with videos, because it rewards the student properly at exactly the right time, because it is connected to the sum of all human knowledge, because it is non linear thus presenting knowledge in a more natural way, because it progresses the student at exactly the right pace and because it is connected to countless other people.

With proper game based learning it is very simple to keep a track of every student’s progress. But more than that it is very easy to see their strengths and weaknesses in all their complexity. The aptitudes of every single student will be plain to see. Which would lead to everyone having the optimum further education and making the right career choices for their abilities. Which would be a massive improvement on the current hit and miss methodology. So students wouldn’t just learn more, with better understanding and more quickly. They would also be learning the right things for them and for their life ahead.

It isn’t just goodbye to classrooms and teachers. It is also goodbye to exams and school inspectors. Because any student’s knowledge and capabilities would be there to see in real time on the system. In fact exams are a very bad thing as they hold the majority of students back until everyone has mastered the syllabus to a given point. With game based learning you are going to have a lot of people educated past degree level by the time they are 18.

But the people who stand to gain most are those with “learning difficulties” who just cannot get all the attention they need with current learning methods. With game based learning they will have one on one learning that will push their aptitudes and capabilities to the limit resulting in much more fulfilling lives.

So what are we going to do with all the teachers? Teach them to stack shelves in Tescos? Nope, there is something far more important for them to do and that is to prepare children for their futures in the real world. Not by teaching, but by mentoring. By guiding every single student, one on one, so each one can get the best out of our society and our society can get the best out of each student.

Some educationalists who have a grasp of this seem to think that you still need a physical school. That each student has their own workstation. They call it “podularisation”. And they are wrong. All a student needs is a device connected to the interweb. A home computer, a netbook or even a smartphone. Yes, that’s right, smartphones replacing teachers. And OnLive technology, or something similar, could be harnessed beautifully to deliver it all.

The next thing that is going to shock is that much education will end up being free. Once it is all written and on a server the incremental cost for each extra student is zero. And as we have seen with so many things on the interweb there is an inevitable constant downwards price pressure till zero is reached. This will open up and democratise learning like never before. It will be more influential than the invention of the printing press. Anyone, anywhere in the world will be able to consume whatever education they want any time they want, delivered to them in the optimum manner for them to absorb. This will massively advance the whole of humanity.

I would like to thank Nolan Bushnell and all the other speakers at the Game Based Learning 2009 conference for stimulating my thoughts on this subject.


  1. Interesting book: What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy

    A controversial look at the positive things that can be learned from video games by a well known professor of education. James Paul Gee begins his new book with ‘I want to talk about vide games yes, even violent video games and say some positive things about them’. With this simple but explosive beginning, one of America’s most well respected professors of education looks seriously at the good that can come from playing video games. Gee is interested in the cognitive development that can occur when someone is trying to escape a maze, find a hidden treasure and, even, blasting away an enemy with a high powered rifle. Talking about his own video gaming experience learning and using games as diverse as Lara Croft and Arcanum, Gee looks at major specific cognitive activities: How individuals develop a sense of identity How one grasps meaning How one evaluates and follows a command How one picks a role model How one perceives the world This is a ground breaking book that takes up a new electronic method of education and shows the positive upside it has for learning.

  2. I’m not sure its the end of collective learning. I have tried online course but its not the same as meeting other people.I do think you can lear a lot from games and other interacitve web based activities infact there is rather a lot of government money going into project to use mobile technologies fro learning. These include Wii,Ps2,mobile phones
    The project is called Molenet

  3. I guess then you can thank YOUR game system for your education then Bruce?

    I have been studying games and learning and have found that most games, especially serious games have no valid or reliable system of measuring learning or transfer.

    Also, it seems fairly simplistic to assume that all kids like games, as I have found they do not; and more to the point, that all kids will like the same game.

    What seems more apt is that what schools do the most is provide the kind of parenting and socialization that games cannot provide. Most learning is socially constructed, distributed, and mediated.

    Where will they play these games and who will be their mentors then?

  4. I agree with Brock’s point that there still needs to be a face-to-face social element to child development, which technology can assist but not replace.

    I don’t agree that traditional school systems fulfil this role very effectively at all. There are too many arbitrary, outdated rules governing social interaction, organisation and time management. The adult environment that schools most closely resemble is prison, which should be a cause for concern.

  5. I homeschooled my daughter using a lot of educational games and she learned to be independent and problem focused. Traditional high school was a terrible step backward for her, even the social aspect frustrated her because of the avoidance of learning even among the “best” students. So as a teacher, it is difficult for me to argue that the present method of schooling should continue.

  6. One teacher for a group of around five students top is what I call real, efficient and social education.
    Considering the crap taught in schools and how the educational systems in many countries are being destroyed year after year, I would not be surprised to hear about a rise of such educational methods.
    That internet based learning system is not good enough. There needs to be a true human contact.

  7. I guess the problem I have with this is that it sets out games as /the solution/ to education, but that it doesn’t actually say what it takes education to be. I don’t think anyone would disagree that education in the west is currently floundering and lacking any kind of coherent approach, and I personally am not against the possibility that the only solution is to tear it all down and start again – but to suggest that the answer lies in a particular medium without any idea of what the message might be doesn’t really take us anywhere.

    It seems very much based on a behaviourist approach which assumes that some form of immediate reward reinforces learning. While there’s evidence this works in the learning of some skills and the memorisation of knowledge, there’s a whole bunch more stuff to education than long division and lists of kings and queens (or presidents).

    I’m really keen to see games technologies contribute to education, but for that to happen we need to avoid polarisation – the more I read about this issue the more I find it’s split between extremes of opinion like the above; give us ideas for how busy teachers today can benefit their students with this technology, within the constraints of society’s conflicting demands on education, so that we have more than a handful of gifted enthusiasts with projects that most schools simply can’t aspire to.

    Huggs :O)


  8. Brilliant!

    I think you might interested in the view of the education in 2029 from the National Association of Scholars at Princeton.

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