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What Minecraft Teaches Us About Learning: 'Curiosity at the Core'

A digital landscape

Luis Oros
Luis Oros, a Product Owner for Future Technologies at Pearson.

Following the Lead of 100 Million People

More than 100 million people are registered users of Minecraft, a massively popular game where players—many of which are children—build complex fantasy worlds with ... blocks.

"It's the highest grossing game in history," says Luis Oros, a Product Owner for Future Technologies at Pearson. "Something is happening with this game and, from a learning perspective, we wanted to figure out what was going on."

An Obsession Like Never Before

"Time and time again," Luis says, "teachers and parents and technical directors at schools told us that kids were completely obsessed with Minecraft like no other application like it."

A Pearson team tried to unpack why.

future of learning

"First, kids have ownership of the learning experience," Luis says.

Players have full control over all design choices, from materials to colors to structures and everything else in between.

"Second," Luis says, "the platform is modifiable."

Players can change designs in so many ways, even starting over or building on top of existing structures.

"This is in sharp contrast to a lot of learning products," Luis says. "where education games don't allow players the freedom to play outside the lines."

A Roadblock to the Classroom

Despite Minecraft's popularity with so many children, there is one major challenge to its full integration in to the classroom.

"How does it align with traditional school curriculums?" Luis says. "What players are doing in the game—the ownership of play and the full freedom to design and explore—is a tough fit in classrooms where memorization and fact-learning is emphasized."

Progressive Models of Learning

"Much of this Minecraft learning points to what we imagine as the future of education," Luis says.

"So many curriculums today are so focused on knowing facts or memorizing formulas," Luis says. "So much of that content is now so widely available in many ways—so we see a broader shift in the classroom away from the conveying of content to a curriculum grounded in thinking skills and problem solving."

"This gets us back to the roots of teaching," Luis says.

Luis sees a second shift in tomorrow's learning experience.

mentors

"We see teachers becoming more mentors and coaches," he says. "The answers are everywhere so, in many ways, a teacher's job is to point young minds to the right kinds of questions."

Luis has a more technical way of describing this evolving role of teachers:

The role of an educator is to spark and nurture curiosity and then build stronger relationships with students to scaffold student ownership of learning.

This kind of approach, Luis says, could lessen the need for massive end-of-the-year assessments and integrate more useful, personalized, real-time assessments in the classroom.

"A gifted instructor, engaging with students, can use real-time feedback to direct the lesson," Luis says.

"Current approaches to assessments don't really do that."

How New Approaches to Learning Work

"I hated school," Luis says.

When attending Johns Hopkins University, studying neuroscience, and thinking he was headed for medical school, he was turned off by the "rigid memorization" of facts.

rest of lives

"I pivoted out of that and became so much more happier in the classroom," he says. "I realized there was so much more to learning."

"The value of something like Minecraft is that curiosity is at its core," Luis says.

"Through this kind of curiosity, we can teach kids the kinds of critical skills they'll need for the rest of their lives."