What “Pokemon Go” Can Teach Us About Learning – That’s Right, I Went There

I grew up in the 80’s – the decade of synthesized music, bright colored clothes like JAMZ, and movies like Back to The Future and Die Hard. I also lived in a very small town in Georgia, the kind where you knew everyone and possibly were related to nearly everyone.

We had cows. We had farms. We had two stoplights. And we had two arcades, both with less than three games.

The amount of quarters I spent on the Galaga game in the ice cream shop next to the Golden Pantry on the Union Point Highway is probably in the thousands.  You could also play Tempest in the “Dairy Bar II and Discount Furniture Barn” up the road. You could literally go there, play in the arcade, get a grape soda and a love seat to go.

If you were lucky, your parents got you the Atari gaming system for home. If you did have one, you suddenly became best friends with kids who had never spoken to you before. But I also remember that my mother was adamant that I did not have an Atari at home. She was afraid that it would make me not want to go outside.

Now we have smartphones and apps. I can play games on my iPhone that look more visually intoxicating on my phone than it ever did in an arcade. And I do not have to be landlocked to play them. However, many of these games can be somewhat mindless and time consuming.

But now there is this new phenomenon – Pokémon Go. It’s almost as popular as Twitter here in the U.S. and it seems to get people moving, which is good except when people don’t pay attention to where they are going and run into a wall, off a cliff, or hit a much heavier moving object.

There are also some lessons about the success of Pokémon Go that may resonate with education and learning. That’s right. Pokémon Go can teach us a lot about education and the positive parallels between the game and what works well in education seem to be many.

Don’t assume it’s the strongest of correlations. Education is not a game or should it be a means to a profit; however, it should be easily accessible and be an individual / team effort that is unique and valuable to the person / people experiencing it.

Easy to access – It’s a phone app. You download it. FOR FREE. It’s just like public schools and community colleges, as well as public universities, students should be able to access a place to get an education for very little money or without having to pay off student loans for the rest of their lives.

And no matter where the school is, students should be able to get out of it what they put in to it. That is, unless you have a situation where schools are underfunded or attacked by bad policies that hurt “reception”.

Is not just for technology sake – It marries the real world with technology. Pokémon Go superimposes its technology on to the real world – not the other way around. Many times in education, we bombard schools with technology for the sake of having the technology. There seems to be no real link to the everyday world. In actuality, this app really does marry the virtual to the real.

It’s kinetic – Remember recess? I do. Exercise the body, spur the imagination, and stimulate the mind in a positive way. You can’t play the game unless you are moving and exercising. Kids need more exercise in their school days – even the high schoolers.

You can do it in groups – When you reach a certain level, you can supposedly join groups. Think of a study group, but the only way you can get into the study group would be having already accomplished something academically. Furthermore, each member of the group could see exactly what others have done. That tends to make everyone a little more accountable for their part.

Remember when you did group projects and two people ended up doing the work for the other five? Yep, it made me frustrated as well. But this seems to foster real collaboration for a common goal.

Forces you to explore – In order to play the game, you have to go out and explore. And in some instances, you must go out of a routine. If you want to learn more, you must explore and be curious. Furthermore, the more you explore, the more you are rewarded in Pokémon Go. The more you delve into different curricula and explore its details, the more knowledgeable and skillful you become.

Can play anywhere – You are not confined geographically. The classroom does not have to be just the four walls. You can learn anywhere. However, some places may not be appropriate for the gaming. I would also probably not recommend studying for the big test while sitting in church with a sermon being conducted.

Can play anytime – You are not confined by just a clock.

Let’s you learn details as well as big picture – Believe it or not, this game is getting high praise because it allows you to come in contact with places and details you may not have even been aware of. Justin Sablich wrote a piece for the New York Times entitled “How to Make Pokémon Go Actually Useful” (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/13/travel/pokemon-go-nyc-tourism.html?_r=0) . It talks about benefits for the game and specifically speaks to this aspect.

People of all ages can play – You are never too old to learn. Or too young.

Not a race, but a journey – Sure, you may want to become a “Pokémon Master”, but you don’t necessarily see a bunch of people literally cutting each other out of opportunities to attain certain levels. Everyone can succeed. Some may take a longer route to get there than others. Some only may want to play for a while. Some may want to come back to it later.

But it does take energy and resources that need to be renewed – You do need to remember that there is an energy factor here. Playing the actual game requires use of data and a lot of battery life. Learning can take its toll as well. But it means that it is not a passive endeavor. Learning requires a lot of energy, time, sweat, and sometimes tears.

And what about the role of teachers? Well, you can’t play the game unless you have some fundamental skills sets that are taught and learned beforehand. One needs to learn how to use the resources available and have people to go to when more guidance and facilitation are needed.

Don’t we want to have a world where people become prepared to the point that they can be self-driven self-learners? Sure we do.

But I am a little afraid of what kind of “standardized tests” some states would create for this.