I have been attending the SxSWedu convention in Austin this week. It has been a good experience – I have learned new things, been in rooms with people who don’t just talk about changing things, they are actively involved in that change. My highlight, however, took place, for the most part, this afternoon and evening when I participated in a social event designed like a game called Learning is Earning 2026.
The game, designed by Jane McGonigal and in collaboration with the Institute for the Future and the ACT Foundation, is centered around a world where education has been transformed into a social credentialing system. Citizens earn “edublocks” when they learn something new and are encouraged to do so through a points system, as well as potential job opportunities and student loan payoffs. Once a person has learned something, they are encouraged to teach others.
The game I participated in this evening was designed to engage its participants in thoughtful dialogue about the pros, cons, potential impacts, and other important considerations surrounding this idea. I have to say that when I first watched the promo video for the “Ledger” system that would house edublocks, I was excited at the possibilities – and I still am. However, the act of participating in the conversation tonight really got me thinking about all of the potential problems that would have to be solved before a system like this would work.
I won’t go into details about all that I learned tonight – I fully intend to explore these possibilities further. What I would like to say is that the entire platform, where my participation was encouraged by a points system and possibilities of “leveling up” and even potentially being invited to the Institute offices in California, was extremely engaging. The diverse opinions and perspectives of the group, coupled with the incentives, kept the conversation lively and made me more likely to play devil’s advocate to dive as deeply into the content as possible.
Is it my old gamer self shining through (I used to spend hours and lots of real dollars on my citizenship on the Great Lakes shard of Trammel in the Ultima Online MMORPG, or is it a generally competitive human nature that fueled my participation? I believe some of the people I had discussions with this evening would say – Does it matter?
My big question from tonight is – Can the incentive to learn be material (money, points, prestige) or should it be a desire to learn for the sake of learning?