Pokémon Go: A window into how we might reimagine learning #BecomingBrilliant

The second wave of educational apps is here! In our piece Putting Education back in Educational Apps, we suggested that the current crop of so-called “educational apps” was proliferating in a landscape that was like the Wild West. In their outstanding book “Tap, Click, Read,” Lisa Guernsey and Michael Levine agree.   Adventurous settlers (call them developers) of the first wave of education apps rushed to get apps to market hoping to strike gold. The modus operandi—take whatever existed already in books and games in the non-digital world and plop it into the most current and popular digital device. The result? Apps and e-books never really used the full potential of the digital world to help children reach beyond the covers and screens or to expand the possibilities of an educationally rich world.

Enter Pokémon Go! This game takes kids ages 8 years and older—along with their playfully oriented parents—outside to capture, train, and battle creatures that appear in the bushes and crevices around the familiar landscapes of their own hometown.  This is a game that could not and does not exist as a board game. It captures the uniqueness of digital opportunity. It literally jumps from screen to the real world by taking us outside to play and by forcing us to move around in our everyday spaces. As a father in Madison, Wisconsin describes:

The game has already revolutionized how kids in the neighborhood are interacting. Two weeks ago, a casual pedestrian would have feared a band of young folks roaming the hood at 9:00 p.m. They might have even reported them to the police. But today? Pokémon GO morphed those kids from a potential gang, into a group of joyful contestants who are collaborating and strategically communicating to find the animated intruders. 

People are moving, talking, and reenergizing in areas that were otherwise desolate after dark.

To date, Pokémon Go is just the latest fad that demonstrates how we can take screen time into the streets while engaging in something truly interactive. But these games stop short of asking how the joy of gaming can be recruited to expand our learning. Perhaps, this new fad is teaching us something that goes well beyond the capture of anime. It might just bear the seeds of a potential learning revolution. 

Imagine taking field trips where instead of viewing cute creatures, a Pokémon spinoff offers up historical figures that give a set of clues in a geocache game. This would be but one step removed from living in the movie “National Treasure.” Might Ben Franklin appear in Philadelphia at his printing press? Could we experience Lincoln’s civil war address while standing on the real battlefield? Could we study the architectural designs of buildings or bridges while playing and gazing at the real structure in the background? How can we use these images and clues to create augmented reality games infused with learning opportunities?

In his book, “A New Culture of Learning,” Douglas Thomas and John Seeley Brown talk about the possibility of using gaming as a prime pedagogy for learning. This kind of learning does not just morph content from non-digital forms onto a digital platform. It asks how can we harness the full potential of digital delivery.

In our new book “Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells us about Raising Successful Children,” we challenge the reader to reimagine education for a 21st century global and digital world. Would success be best defined only by how well we read and do math or how well we do on bubble sheet tests?  Or might we want to add  breadth of skills like learning to learn (content), creativity, and critical thinking to the list?  We suggest that success in the new age is best described as learning that helps each of us become collaborative, critical thinkers, creative innovators, and responsible citizens. To achieve that success, we must embrace breadth of skills, complemented by breadth of contexts that includes learning in and out of school and breadth of ages taking into account that learning is lifelong. 

Pokémon GO opens a new vista for exploring learning. The technology is available and widely accessible. The second wave is upon us. Maybe we can link wave 2.1 to learning in a way that will not only augment reality but also the way we master information, think, and interact. Then we will be realizing the full potential of digital platforms as they support #BecomingBrilliant.