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Gaming Education

Apple announced a load of great stuff at their Back to Mac event today. One of the things that really pleased me was seeing the changes in Garage Band, specifically the feature Apple is calling “How Did I Play?”:

GarageBand listens in real time and tells you how you’re doing. You’ll see how well you played with colored notes, a progress bar, and a performance meter. You can check your rhythm and note accuracy, keep track of your progress, and beat your best score — all while perfecting your skills.

You can read the official marketing blurb, and watch a video of it here.

The inspiration for this feature is undoubtably games like Guitar Hero, Rock Band and Singstar. Garage Band ‘11 provides visual feedback and scoring mechanisms that look like they have come right out of a video game.

Game-style mechanics in Garage Band '11

Explicit Scoring used to Visualize Progress

Other companies are also applying game mechanics to training software of various kinds. Nintendo did pioneering work with Wii Fit, and both Sony and Microsoft look set to follow and extend this work with their respective Move and Kinnect systems. (Sony also had their Eye Toy system which pre-dates the Wii).

Play is the natural way of passing on skills and training. Watch a nature documentary and you’ll see the cute little lion cubs playing out the skills they’ll need for survival later on in life (namely ripping some other animal’s neck open, but in a very cute fashion). Likewise, young children don’t need any excuse to run around and play. Contrast that playful attitude with most people’s dread of going to the gym.

Games designers have spent years honing techniques to motivate and inspire players to keep trying to beat their old scores, to level up their in-game characters, and to keep them playing their games. I know people who spend hours playing the most mind-bogglingly boring games (grind games) out of some deep seated need to improve their in-game characters, or to complete some in-game narrative.

The potential of applying game-style incentives to training and education has just begun. I’m predicting we’ll see a load more scoring mechanics and feedback systems in productivity software as time goes on.

As Walt Disney put it:

I prefer to entertain people in the hope they learn, rather than teach people in the hope they are entertained.

As for me, I think I will finally learn to play a musical instrument. Now if only someone would make an application that would teach me how to draw…

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