Listen to anyone talk about schools today: classical education just can't keep up. In the digital generation's world of constant change, most schooling is profoundly boring. But what else is possible?
Imagine an environment where the participants are building a massive network databases, wikis and websites, and thousands of message forums, creating a large-scale knowledge economy. Imagine an environment where participants constantly measure and evaluate their own performance, even if that requires them to build new tools to do so. Imagine an environment where user interface dashboards are constructed by the users themselves to make sense of the world and their own performance in it. Imagine an environment where evaluation is based on after-action reviews to continually enhance performance; an environment where learning happens on a continuous basis, because the participants are internally motivated to find, share, and filter new information on a near-constant basis.
Finding an environment like that sounds difficult, but it isn't. It already exists, in the form of massively multiplayer online games. These large-scale social communities provide a case study in how players absorb tacit knowledge, process it into a series of increasingly sophisticated questions, and engage collectives to make the experience personally meaningful. What they teach us about learning is not found in the game at all, but is instead embedded in these collectives, which form in, around, and through the game. In essence, the game provides the impetus for collectives to take root.
In our view, the cultures created around MMOs are almost perfect illustrations of a new learning environment. On one hand, online games produce massive information economies, composed of thousands of message forums, wikis, databases, player guilds, and communities. In that sense, they are paragons of an almost unlimited information network. On the other hand, they constitute a bounded environment within which players have near absolute agency, enjoying virtually unlimited experimentation and exploration—more of a petri dish.
MMOs draw in players from every walk of life, of every age, and across gender, class, and socioeconomic divides. They require an immense amount of learning in order to play them and are grounded in participation. Most important, the engine that drives learning is a blend of questioning, imagination, and—best of all—play.