Video games are the future of education (reflections of a programmer from Palantir)
As a teenager, my real education consisted of:
- books that I myself chose
- learning programming (stand-alone)
- video games (which I found myself)
- mathematics (from the school curriculum)
Items 1-3 are not related to formal school education and formed even more likely in spite of it. Paul Graham wrote about something like this:
"Something I didn’t understand in childhood: if you learn something really important for yourself, then surprisingly often you have to learn it yourself. I had to learn Lisp myself, figure it out myself, how to write an essay and open a startup. I had examples before my eyes, but there were no teachers or classrooms. ”
The conclusion follows:
1. Things that you learn yourself are fixed; the things that you are “taught” disappear
The fundamental principle of education is to give students the environment and tools with which they can make discoveries on their own. This will require space, time and autonomy.
Students should also have the opportunity to choose: what to study and how to study - moments that modern hard curriculum and school environment, more like a prison, do not allow.
And I dare even go ahead and say:
2. Unlike classic school education, video games provide a deeper understanding of most subjects
I play chess quite a lot (though not very brilliantly) and noticed that over time I developed the ability to see “lines of force” on the board. For example, to capture the force that an elephant exerts on a pawn; and physically feel “weaknesses” in the enemy’s structure, just as on the material level you recognize the shakiest element in the Jengi tower.
This is the classic position of the "baby mat." As soon as you move the bishop to the C4 square, you “feel” that the black F-pawn is under pressure. The influence of the white bishop and queen on the F-pawn can be felt in the body of a good chess player as weakness.
The development of this sensory-based, proprioceptive “feeling” of a thing is the key to a truly deep understanding of its essence. When you understand something very well, it’s as if you can play it, using all your senses - touch, sensations, perception of space.
“If you don’t see this, it will be difficult to explain, but let's say you try to hold on to an object with the help of a stepladder. The easiest way is to install a stepladder directly under the object, especially since it will not disperse in this way. But if the stepladder deviates and slides so that its leg is at a small distance from the ground, it will take almost infinite horizontal force to keep the thing at a small angle. So, now you can feel all these moments.You do not have to feel them; you can work them out by making diagrams and calculations, but as problems become more and more difficult, as you try to understand nature in more and more complex situations, the more you can guess, feel and understand without actual calculation, the better for you! ”
There are stories about how Feynman rolled on the floor with his eyes closed, simulating physical processes with his body. His biographer James Glick wrote:
“Intuition uses not only visual images, but also auditory and kinesthetic ones. Those who watched Feynman at the moments of intense concentration left him with an anxious sensation of the physical nature of the process, as if his brain did not stop on gray matter, but penetrated all the muscle tissues of the body. Once in a hostel, a neighbor found Feynman rolling on the floor next to the bed while working on a problem... Part of the process of scientific visualization is the process of transferring oneself into nature: into an imaginary beam of light, into a relativistic electron. ”
There is a famous story about Einstein, who at 16 imagined what a ray of light would look like if you caught it; and thereby sowed the seed of the special theory of relativity.
When you really understand something, it is almost always accompanied by a deep, silent, “multidimensional” understanding of things. But:
3. Schooling in most cases does not give you such a deep understanding
Most adults experienced an incredibly painful experience from the realization that after 15 years of formal training, we still cannot answer the simplest questions about common scientific puzzles (for example, why, in fact, the sky is blue) and have to go looking for an explanation.
Most of the things that I was “taught” at school simply did not fit my head. We were simply told that the atom consists of protons/neutrons/electrons, but we had no idea how someone managed to figure it out (or, for that matter, why it is so important to know). I still remember with torment how I taught at school the “plum pudding model” (the Rutherford atom model).
It took people thousands of years to figure out that our reality is made up of atoms and to understand why this is so. Reality consists of an amazing amount of detail. The more you delve into these issues, the more you realize that things are not so simple. But the school did not leave us the opportunity to delve into these issues; we had to take exams and, therefore, obediently learn to calculate molecular weight, etc., without much understanding of the essence.
And in the end, we have: wasted years and lack of any understanding.
But this can be completely avoided. Imagine if we “taught” Pokémon in the usual way:
Before playing games or watching videos about Pokémon, you must memorize the names and characteristics of the first 100 Pokémon. Ritually repeating them in alphabetical order. Whether you want it or not. This is what the education system usually understands by mathematical abilities.
Simulators (such as the Pokemon game) provide a quicker and deeper understanding, an understanding of "to the bone."
Therefore, I believe that:
4. Video games will be a key component of education
It sounds absurd, but if you think about it, simulation is already widely used for training:
- The computer game Kerbal Space Program is famous for making its players experts in astrodynamics.
- Flight simulators and combat simulators train pilots and military personnel.
- Factorio teaches you the laws of capitalism, production and economics.
- Programming environments are simulations of the "universe" of a programming language with fast feedback (write code - > debug code).
A video game is simple:
(a) simulation of reality
(b) with quick feedback.
Learning is just an act of interaction with an external object with the involvement of critical thinking and multiple guesses, with the formation of conclusions and the construction of a body of knowledge on their basis.
Therefore, it is justifiable that video games in the future will become the main educational environment: this is the best way to date to (a) create reality simulations (b) quickly get feedback and (c) do it all at affordable prices.
(By the way, this works not only for abstract concepts such as astrodynamics, but also for ethical standards. For example, my understanding of heroism is still formed by Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid games. The value of fiction can also be explained: you can get “ bodily knowledge ”about despair after reading Dostoevsky, and about jealousy, reading“ Towards Svan ”and others.)
5. The only thing the games lose is the transition to the real world. The skills you learn in a particular game are very specific. But everything will change
The knowledge of chess is mainly valuable precisely for playing chess. What you learn by learning to play chess well cannot be passed on to real life, because this is a high-tech understanding of various chess combinations.
The fact is that chess is not an exact model of reality. Lessons learned from chess can only be summarized at a high level (for example, it is better to have a bad plan than not to have one).
But if you have games that (a) are exciting and (b) accurately convey some aspects of reality, such as KSP or Factorio games, you get real knowledge that can be transferred to the real world. The challenge is to create games that satisfy both aspects.
There are not many examples of such games yet, but I believe that in the future there will be more of them. Why has this not happened yet? I think the answer is that:
6. It is still too difficult to produce video games. Simplifying the process will significantly increase the supply of good video games in the market and lead to a gradual revolution in education
One statement about the Internet I remember especially well. It belongs to Evan Williams, the founder of Twitter/Blogger/Medium. He once said that the best way to create a giant Internet company is to take what people want to do and make it 10 times easier.
This idea formed the basis of all his companies. People want to be creative, they want to create music, develop video games, they want to write (understand!) And post ideas online, but the barriers to this are still too high.
“We think the internet allows us to do something new,” says Williams. “But people just want to do what they always do.”
“Here is the formula for you if you want to build a billion-dollar Internet company,” he says. “Take a human desire, preferably one that has existed for a very long time... Reveal the request of consumers and use modern technology to take steps to implement it.” ( link )
“Simplify the creation of things” is a megatrend of the Internet era:
- Blogger/Medium/Wordpress (and Habr) make it easy to write on the Internet;
- Subpack makes it easy to set up newsletters
- YouTube and TikTok make it easy to create videos;
- Ableton makes it easy to make music, etc.
Another point is that simplification has a nonlinear effect. Simplification of something by a factor of 10 leads to the fact that something appears in a 1000-fold amount. Hence the explosion of online creativity on YouTube: many videos on chess, Minecraft, mathematics, Khan Academy, streams on Twitch, Soundcloud, etc. you remove some difficulties and get a grandiose result.
However, this trend is waiting for a long development path.Creating video games requires tremendous effort and high costs; you need to be either a crazy genius, an indie game developer with ultra-high risk tolerance, or a mega-corporation like Unity, Steam or Valve. Video games have not survived the “creators revolution” yet.
Over time, changes will come. Large companies will emerge that will simplify the process of creating video, video games, podcasts, etc., and reveal another ton of potential. Gradually, the idea of introducing video games into education will not seem too crazy, as developing games are being improved that help to understand important things, such as Newtonian dynamics, mathematics, chemistry, architecture, etc. and begin to feel them on an intuitive level, with which books and teachers rarely can help.
A few important points:
First, I suspect that optimizing games directly for the sake of "learning" is a bad idea for developers . Most of the video games I've played or tried have been boring. In my opinion, the best solution is to combine business with pleasure.
Secondly, this post is not a call for the “gamification” of education or for putting game dynamics on top of education. That won’t work.
And finally: that is why AI is important for human performance. This is mainly about how AI will “replace” people. I adhere to the position of Liklider: symbiosis of man and computer . AI will make people more efficient by automating tedious tasks. For example, people can use text AI, such as GPT-3, to generate ideas/template writing, to avoid fear of a blank page, and then select the best examples and refine/iterate them. (AI Dril, which was created on the basis of GPT-2, was just such an early example). As artificial intelligence improves, “assistive creativity” will become an increasingly common phenomenon, allowing people to create complex artifacts (including video games!) As never before easier and better.
The potential energy of human creativity is huge. We just need to give people the tools, and creations will follow. Go ahead!
Thanks to Saku P for reading my draft.
Update: interesting discussions on Hacker News .
Subscribe to the channel @META EDUCATION , where I share my most useful findings about education and role IT/games in education (as well as thoughts on this subject by Anton Makarenko, Seymour Peypert, Paul Graham, Joseph Liklider, Alan Kay)
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