Friday, November 26, 2004

From E-learning To Serious Games To… Augmented Reality? 

I’ve been playing with concepts around the Serious Games theme for some time now. My wife, Natacha Bosse-Simard, is currently writing what I think is a groundbreaking paper on how to use Augmented Reality for learning purposes. Talking to her about the subject is giving me a lot to think about. My thoughts are still chaotic so I’ll try to bring some order in the house by writing down my main reflections. I believe that Serious Games (or games for learning?) are the next big step in the learning evolution process and that Augmented Reality will one day change the way we interact with our environment by bridging gaming to what we call reality.

Some random thoughts:

·E-learning is slowly dying, or at least e-learning in its current form. Traditional e-learning’s focus on content has proven to be a rather weak approach. Failures are leading us to put emphasis on collaboration, and rightly so.

·Collaboration, the way we experience it in even the most collaborative e-learning initiatives, is very limited in that in most cases it happens through written communication or, when lucky, with videoconferencing.

·Richer environments allowing people to interact at a deeper emotional level with both so-called “content” and with others are needed, which explains the current hype around serious games and simulation.

·I suspect that in a number of years we will criticize serious games because of their lack of roots in the physical world (I use physical world as opposed to reality that is only a personal interpretation of personal perceptions, everyone has his/her own personal reality). Virtuality leads to an inevitable delay between learning and influencing the physical world.

·The need to better link gaming with reality will push forward a concept that is already the subject of early work: augmented reality

The distinction between reality and virtuality is seen in Milgram’s continuum as the level of augmentation that we apply to reality. If that augmentation happens on demand, in real time, then we create an altered reality where knowledge is created on-the-fly according to a very precise context.

Just imagine the potential…
A worker facing a difficult task (plan a marketing strategy for a new service for example), would be offered advices by “mentors”, be it real people or agents, would be presented all relevant information, and would in fact learn by doing it for real with all the necessary support and collaboration. This individual would be learning the way humans have traditionally been learning, by doing it for real.

In my example, I used a single individual within a defined concept. What if we extend the concept to a large group of people across various settings that see their lives “augmented” by learning, knowledge and collaboration?

Humans have always been augmenting their realities in some way. People stop at a red light when they’re driving even if we could well drive cars without having red lights. What makes the red light “real”? The fact that it’s made of matter? No, just the fact that it is something that we accept and recognize as being part of our reality. Virtuality and gaming might become quite real one day… Or maybe I’m just drinking too much green tea.

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