Learning while Gaming on Handhelds

Marc PrenskyLearning while Gaming on Handhelds is the first session I attended at Handheld Learning 2007 in London. It was lead by Marc Prensky. Marc's specialty is analyzing today's students. He is author of Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.

Marc says that educational computer games are really "mini" games. Only a few things are learned in the 5 minutes to 2 hours spent playing a mini game. Complex games can be played for 8 to 100 hours and involve much more learning.

Complex games have the goal of "being a hero." Many times in school the goal is to master the material or score well on a test. Isn't being a hero a much more appealing ambition? Games also engage students because they involve frequent decision making, create an emotional connection, balance cooperation and competition, and are personalized.

Marc shared the numbers of kinds of computers sold. He admits that finding numbers was hard. I'm not sure about the first number either. But, we know that are definitely many more mobile phones out there than PCs.

  • PCs 200 million
  • PlayStations 100 million
  • GameBoys 150 million
  • DS 50 million
  • Mobile phones 1.5 billion

Marc says that "we just don't have the imagination" to use all those mobile phones in learning. He is a fan of an "open phone test." Teachers who do this say they can ask better questions. Makes me think an open handheld test would be a great alternative. Fill your iPod, Palm, Pocket PC, etc. with the information you need. That's exactly what I did to prepare for my trip to London--it's a real-world skill!


One obstacle is getting games on mobile devices. For instance, getting software on a mobile phone is complicated and you often have to go through your cell phone carrier. Also, there are not yet many complex games for handhelds. When better games and software are available for handhelds and mobile phones, maybe we'll imvite them to be used in and out of school for learning.