Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Do you want to know how people learn? Watch them play Little Big Planet

Little Big Planet (LBP) is a wildly successful game for the PlayStation 3 and at this point, it is one of a kind. Think Web 2.0 for gaming. The game unleashes the creative power of the user and enables worldwide collaboration. Gamers can play a variety of levels that the game developers created and compete with PS3 gamers worldwide, but that's not the best part. LBP also enables users to create their own games within little big planet and share them with the worldwide community, thus enabling an infinite amount of games since everyone is connected via the PS3 network. The creativity of the games you can create are pretty much limited to your own imagination. I have seen people replicate versions of Mario Brothers, Zelda, and even Metal Gear. I think there are over 300,000 worlds to explore at the time of this blog post. Some are awesome and others are junk, but just like Web 2.0 there is a way to filter the good from the bad (think digg). You can heart your favorites, tag the levels with key words such as "weird", "fun", "dumb" "beautiful", etc. You can also search for levels by name, category, ranking etc (think google). Also, you can report levels that are hateful/inappropriate and the game developers will remove them. Adding this functionality to gaming also gives motivation for users to build awesome levels and become a well known LBP designer. Not to mention it is a great outlet for aspiring game designers to get some practice, get noticed, and show the world what you got.

Web 2.0 took the world by storm by empowering the user to not only consume content but to become a content creator. In addition Web 2.0 harnesses the collective intelligence of communities to make things better (ie. ebay ranking system, amazon reviews, etc). The "we is greater than me" mentality. The genius of LBP is that they have been able to apply this concept to gaming. Yes, you can become a content creator in LBP. You might be wondering how people could possibly create their own games in Little Big Planet? That's got to be incredibly complex and time consuming! Right?

Well, this is where educators really need to pay attention. It's not just about entertainment, it's about engagement, motivation, and creation. Users do have a LOT of information they need to learn before they are able to create a game of there own, but learning in LBP is fun, exploratory, interactive, engaging, and empowering. Here is their learning road map. First, they tell you the story of Little Big Planet and have you perform a few basic moves such as run, jump, smile, frown, etc to set your expectations. (the best communicators are always good story tellers). Then, they have you play about five levels of LBP that the creators made so that you get a feel for what the worlds look like and what you can do in the worlds (play, interactive examples, deeper understanding). Third, they give you a planet of your own to create your own levels on, but before you can do everything, they have you complete interactive tutorials along the way to obtain the tools necessary to create the world (learn by doing). For example, if I want to add music to my level, I need to know how to place a music box on the screen and tweek the settings so that it plays when I want it to. LBP scaffolds your learning as one experience builds on the next experience and each gradually becoming more complex than the next. I think the game has been a successful experiment in exposing the stregths of ideas such as connectivism, creative problem solving, and participative pedagogy as is fact that it is the most popular PS3 game available and it very learning intensive. I think Michael Wesch should get a bunch of PS3's for his classroom and do some major experiments with this game ;-) (on a side note: I'm looking forward to his keynote at the University System of Ohio LLT Conference as well as giving my own presentation at the conference titled, "University 2.0: How BGSU Leveraged Open Source Technologies to Create a Web 2.0 Learning Landscape." Hope to see you there.)

People really have fun exploring, learning, creating, and sharing their worlds with other people. Users spend much time playing, learning, and creating. Maybe this is model of explore/play > learn >create >share does not have to be limited to video games but could actually be applied to education in general. What do you think? How can this be accomplished?