Minecraft, motivation and the technology gap

Recently, I was asked “Can e-learning close the technology gap?” My answer was yes, in the same way a hammer can drive a nail into wood.

The question misses the human factor. Technology is, like the hammer, just a tool. Sure it’s an awesome one, but I argue that learner motivation has much more impact on whether learners succeed in any educational pursuit, regardless of the delivery mechanism.

Like many 10-year-olds, my daughter loves Minecraft and is constantly coming up with ideas for modifications (mods) that change or add different aspects to the game. I explained that her desire to create Minecraft mods was going to require some training in how to code.

Screenshot of a Minecraft gamePhoto by Reece Bennett // CC BY-SA 2.0

As a school holiday project, we started working through the exercises at learn.code.org. This MOOC provides a balanced curriculum, incorporating lesson plans that lead the learner through theory and concepts both on and off a computer. It has been a great experience for us both and she is getting more confident with programming techniques. Coming back to the Technology Gap question, here are the two most important factors in this example:

1. Motivation

My daughter really wants to make Minecraft mods, not to code JavaScript. I am not sure how long you would bang nails with a hammer if you didn’t understand why you were doing it.

2. Collaboration

Sometimes during the course, she gets stuck with an exercise and we need to talk it out rather than me just showing her. MOOCs offer educational opportunities to every potential learner with access to the Internet. They provide a reach unobtainable with brick and mortar, face-to-face and paper-driven education practices. We see high non-completion rates in these digital delivery methods, but I argue that low-completion rates are a symptom, not the root cause. For example, many people sign up to MOOCs, perhaps out of curiosity about the content, with no intention of completing the modules. (Stay tuned for further discussion on this issue in online education.)

Online delivery does not mean isolation for learners. Flipped classroom techniques, for example, are a nice balance of technology and human interaction. It is this human interaction that is an important part of cultivating intrinsic learner motivation. And it’s this internal drive that will empower learners in the information age; technology is merely the hammer.

What’s your view or experience on learner motivation? Continue the conversation on LinkedIn or Twitter.