Pokemon Go and the Future of Learning

Unless you have been not paying attention to anyone between the ages of 13-30 over the past two weeks, you’ve probably heard of a new mobile game launched about two weeks ago called Pokemon Go.  This new game produced by Nintendo is a mobile augmented reality game in which the user tries to catch little critters called Pokemon.  As of 2 days ago, USA Today reported that Pokemon Go has been downloaded 15 million times, in only 11 days!  Daily user rates have surged past those of other viral apps that have been released in the past 24 months, and it shows no signs of slowing down.  After playing the game myself for the past several days, naturally, it gets my gears turning, thinking about the possibility of gamifying learning.  What if Pokemon Go was a platform that could be replicated but for the purpose of learning about your environment?

For those who are not familiar with the premise of Pokemon Go, the game is a mobile platform that can run on either Android or IOS and uses a device’s GPS to traFile_000.pngck movements.  The kicker is that the GPS is overlayed with a Pokemon rich environment that changes and adjusts with the movements of the user.  Users can catch Pokemon as they spring up in the environment, visit Pokemon Gyms that are physical landmarks in our environment, and also visit points of interests along the way to gain additional items.  This augmented reality game puts the user of the device in a digital world that interacts with the world in which they physically occupy.  The game is only 12 days old, but has quite a stir the VR world, so much so that several other VR developers have seen significant impacts on their stock prices because of the bullish VR market this game has caused.  One can see groups of people from all different ages walking around searching for Pokemon, visiting different locations, and interacting at local gyms.   It is an interesting thought that devices, long believed to be isolating people from each other, can have such an engaging and collaborative effect.

File_001.pngWhat if this engaging augmented reality environment was redesigned for learning?  What would the reaction be if instead of chasing down Pokemon, kids were allowed to chase down and meet historic people, places, or find historical artifacts that connect them to the past in ways a textbook could never do.  This game contains many key elements needed to build a mass following that could potentially be leveraged for a game designed for learning.

  1. Short feedback loops, drive user interest as they uncover new Pokemon and capture them.  Leveling up Pokemon and the player gives them incentive to keep pushing.
  2. Games can build complex linguistic skill sets including media or digital literacy.  Beyond that, the specific language used within the context of a game helps build rich contextual language amongst users.
  3. Innovative gameplay and engagement bring users back time and time again.
  4. Though more open world at this point, it is possible that story modes are developed that help build a story around the player.  Playlists could potentially provide another layer of engagement that isn’t yet available.

Mobile learning is a largely untapped market in education.  There has been a lot of speculation as to the effect VR and augmented reality will have on the future of education, and I think what we are seeing with Pokemon Go is a glimpse of the potential of these tools in the field of education.  With what will most likely be 25 million downloads within the next couple of weeks, we would be wise to take note of the behaviors that new technologies and tools such as this illicit.  It is a lesson that can help provide insight as to how to leverage technology to drive engagement.

Is this a glimpse into the future of learning?


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