Finding Meaning & Purpose for Self-Learning Pathways

Sasha Barab
Executive Director
Center for Games & Impact

Sasha explored how can you build an ecosystem for learning with a young person at the centre, from his standpoint as a Professor of Innovation and Learning Sciences.

By focusing on unlocking human potential, his approach is in sharp contrast to what is happening in many school classrooms, where the focus is on content and how it can be consumed. At Arizona State University, the traditional faculties have been re-imagined so as not to focus only on disciplines. For example, Sasha’s work falls into the Future of Innovation in Society, where diverse practitioners from engineers and doctors to writers are all thinking about how to use technology to create better futures. This has allowed the focus to shift from ‘what you are’ to ‘what you can do’.

One way of doing this is to give people more opportunities to create value in their lives. Today’s schools tend to focus not on creating value, but consuming value in the hope that one day you might get to create it. That promise very thin for many young people, which is why they need to see value in the present. Kids need to see value in what they are doing. How do I take content and do something meaningful with it in the real world?

Games have the potential to create meaning. And they are not just valuable because they are fun – a good gamer is not someone who doesn’t know they are learning, but someone who engages deeply with what they are learning. If the game designed well, the only way the learner can succeed is by understanding the core concepts the game is trying to teach. They are one tool in the classroom, and the best results have come when students working in groups, with a facilitator, supplemented with other instruction.

“Fundamentally, we must let people create value and find purpose. Schools are often not about creating value, but consuming value in the hope that ‘one day you might get to create it’. That promise is wearing very thin for many young people.”

One major problem, or opportunity, is ensuring real-world transfer. How do we translate the value in the game situation into value in their lives? The learner must become the innovator and their work must become the innovation. The notion of anticipatory governance – the individual leveraging the technology in anticipation of what they might do with it – is important. When we think like this, the entire process is flipped so that we think first about what we want our learner to do at the end, and then design accordingly. This involves re-thinking the curriculum to be: invite – enable – release, with the focus on the final ‘release’ step.

One way to think about this is by enabling a focus on the impacts that you are creating. A powerful motivator for learning is seeing what other people have achieved, and then sharing what you have achieved. People need to have success in bite-sized chunks. The relationship we are trying to introduce is the child as the innovator, and their learning as an act of innovation.

Our platforms must allow relationships to form, and for young people to champion the work of others, as some of the biggest moments where a kid decides to lean in are bound up in relationships with mentors/peers/teachers. Any structure interacts with a child’s passion, so it must start with the learner being invited to engage.