Someone asked me what I would say about my first book, Engaging Learning. And, coincidentally, my client just gave some copies to their client as part of our engagement, so I guess there’s still value in it! And while I recognize it’s now about 13 years old, I really do believe it has relevance. Since they asked…
I saw the connections between computers and learning as an undergraduate, and designed my own major. My first job out of college was designing and programming educational computer games. Long story short: I went back for a Ph.D. in what was effectively ‘applied cognitive science’, but games continued to play a role in my career. And I reflected on it, and ultimately what started as a research agenda manifested as a model for explaining why games work and how to do it. And then when I started consulting, Pfeiffer asked me to write the book.
To be clear, I believe engagement matters. We learn better when our hearts and our minds are engaged. (That’s the intent of the double meaning of the title, after all.) Learning sticks when we’re motivated and in a ‘safe’ learning situation. Learning can, and should, be ‘hard fun’. However, if we can’t do it reliably and repeatedly, it’s just a dream. I believe that if we systematically apply the principles in the book, we can do it (systematic creativity is not an oxymoron ;).
One of the concerns was that things were changing fast even then (Flash was still very much in play, for example ;). How to write something that wouldn’t be outdated even before it came out? So I tied it to cognitive principles, as our brains aren’t changing that fast. Thus, I think the principles in it still hold. I’ve continued to check and haven’t found anything that undermines the original alignment that underpins designing engaging experiences.
And the book was designed for use. While the first three chapters set the stage, the middle three dig into details. There you’ll find the core framework, examples, and a design process. The design process was focused mostly on adding to what you already do, so as not to be redundant. The final three chapters wrap up pragmatics and future directions.
While ostensibly (and realistically) about designing games, it was really about engagement. For instance, the principles included were applied backwards to branching scenarios, and what I called linear and mini-scenarios. The latter just being better written multiple choice questions!
The book couldn’t cover everything, and I’ve expanded on my thinking since then, but I believe the core is still there: the alignment and the design process in particular. There have been newer books since then by others (I haven’t stayed tied to just games, my mind wanders more broadly ;) and by me, but as with my other books I think the focus on the cognitive principles gives lasting guidance that still seems to be relevant. At a recent event, someone told me that while I viewed mobile as a known, for others it wasn’t. I reckon that may be true for games and engagement as well. If we’re making progress, I’m pleased. So, please, start engaging learning by making engaging learning!