Me as learner – WoW, MMPORGs and learning

Week 1 of the Networked and Global Learning (NGL) course asks the participants to think and write about what they would like to learn. It’s meant to be something other than the principles of NGL and is intended to be something that can be learned through the use of NGL. What follows is my contribution and plans.

What would you like to learn? Why?

My plan is to learn how to play World of Warcraft (WoW) one of the archetypal massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMPORG). Though perhaps “play” doesn’t really capture the full intent/complexity of participating in WoW.

There are a number of reasons for doing picking WoW

  1. To illustrate a different type of learning.

    I had originally considered using this task as an opportunity to spend more tie re-learning the clarinet (you can hear an early exploration of this on SoundCloud). However, I feel that’s a topic that’s a bit too close to a topic you might learn via a more formal course/learning approach. One of the aims of participating in this activity is to set the example and illustrate something that is quite a bit different. A game is not something many associate with learning.

  2. I’ve always wanted to.

    I’m a frustrated (by time and energy) gamer. I owned a copy of Warcraft (an offline early version of WoW) ages ago and have been aware of MMPORGs for ages. An old friend was completely hooked on them back in the late 1980s/early 1990s when they were a text only affair. More recently I’ve observed vicariously tweeps like @sthcrft and @edugnome report on their explorations of WoW via Twitter. More recently I enjoyed playing Skyrim. So this seems like a perfect opportunity to justify spending a bit of time getting into it.

  3. I can.

    For many years I lived in a rural setting where I didn’t have the broadband connection to play a game like WoW. That’s changed.

  4. It’s a challenge.

    I’m an introvert. I’m the quiet guy that sits up the back in a class, doesn’t really talk, hates the idea of group work and is more than happy to work through something on his own. The idea of working with other people to play a game is a challenge. I’ve tended to avoid this, time to challenge myself.

  5. Exploring a metaphor for courses.

    The rise of gamification – especially in education – is driven by the observation that millions of people (including many people who are not successful participants in formal education) spend huge amounts of enjoyable time learning quite complex bits of knowledge through games. If games can achieve that, why can’t formal education be more like games?

    As someone responsible for a course that averages 300+ people in its largest semester, I want to see what I can learn from participating in WoW that might translate.

  6. A different but successful example of “networked learning”.

    WoW apparently has over 7 million subscribers. Creating a world in which millions of people actively participate requires significant skills. As an example of networked learning what formal education does pales into insignificance. The biggest MOOCs I’ve seen mentioned are talking about one or two hundred thousand participants. You call that a community? This is a community?

How suited do you think it will be to learning via NGL?

An absolutely great fit. Large numbers of people. A huge community around the game. A complicated world in the game with a huge array of roles and possibilities. The necessity at some stage to join with others to achieve more complex tasks….and the other reasons I gave above.

As I was writing this post I did a bit of searching in the literature. A taste of what I found follows.

Seely-Brown (2006, p. 21) describes gaming this way

The first thing you realize is that most video games are incredibly difficult to master. If you’re not extremely good at pattern recognition, sense-making in confusing environments, and multitask- ing—and if you’re afraid to constantly explore and push the limits—then you won’t do well in the game world. In this world you immerse yourself in an immensely complex, information-rich, dynamic environment where you must sense, infer, decide, and act quickly. When you fail, you must learn from that failure and try again and again and again. Continuous decision-making in conditions of uncertainty is the essential skill.

The difficulty of learning a game itself will be a good test of NGL. Can the community around WoW help learn the game. The need to become a member of a community (a guild) to proceed further in the game also offers some possibilities of insights into the notion of community as talked about in the NGL literature.

What will be the benefits and the barriers?

I’m guessing it could be a time sink. Too enjoyable to give up. But beyond that not many barriers.

But that level of enjoyment is also a benefit. It also requires me to break out of the web/social media perspective of NGL. I’ve been stuck in that view for a very long time. Long overdue to break out of it.

What is learning?

Now that’s a question! Or a can of worms when you involve academics and a topic that could take up a course.

The Wikipedia definition current starts with

Learning is the act of acquiring new, or modifying and reinforcing, existing knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, or preferences and may involve synthesizing different types of information. The ability to learn is possessed by humans, animals and some machines. Progress over time tends to follow learning curves. Learning is not compulsory; it is contextual. It does not happen all at once, but builds upon and is shaped by what we already know. To that end, learning may be viewed as a process, rather than a collection of factual and procedural knowledge. Learning produces changes in the organism and the changes produced are relatively permanent.

I can live with that.

@cj13 did point towards this article which takes aim at associationism largely seen as the underpinning mechanism of learning which I found interesting.

Rather than delving further into that can of worms, time to move on to other work and hopefully some first steps in WoW tonight.


Seely-Brown, J. (2006). New learning environments for the 21st century: Exploring the edge. Change, (October), 18–24.

7 thoughts on “Me as learner – WoW, MMPORGs and learning

  1. chrisbigum

    Jim Gee is another who makes a strong comparison between the kind of “learning” that goes on in and with games and that of formal schooling. There are some good video clips for the text averse :)

    Some links here also:

    I also wonder how we’d go about talking about the various practices that get covered with the L-(for learning)-word and not being able to use the L-word and, perhaps some of the other commonplace terms we use to talk about teaching, learning, understanding, knowledge etc. :)

    Gee, J. P. (2003). Power Up: What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
    Gee, J. P. (2005). Learning by Design: good video games as learning machines. E-Learning, 2(1), 5-16. Retrieved from
    Shaffer, D. W., Squire, K. R., & Gee, J. P. (2005). Video Games and The future of Learning. Phi Delta Kappan, 87(2), 105-111.
    Gee, J. P. (2006). Why Game Studies Now? Video Games: A New Art Form. Games and Culture, 1(1), 58-61. doi: 10.1177/1555412005281788
    Gee, J. P. (2008). Video Games and Embodiment. Games and Culture, 3(3-4), 253-263. doi: 10.1177/1555412008317309
    Gee, J. (2010). New Digital Media and Learning as an Emerging Area and “Worked Examples” as One Way Forward. Cambridge, Massachusetts; London, England: The MIT Press
    Gee, J. P., & Hayes, E. (2010). Women and gaming : the Sims and 21st century learning. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    1. Thanks Chris. I use a video of an interview with Gee in the undergraduate course.

      I had thought about mentioning his work, but found myself pondering whether it would be too much for purpose of this post. As expected dealing with “information overload” has cropped up in a minor way from some of the students and it was in my mind as I wrote this.

      On the upside, you’ve given me a much richer collection of Gee references than I had before. Ta.

  2. Pingback: As Learner – Game Play | iThink, iTeach, iTeens

  3. Hi David,

    WOW is awesome and I can see why it is so immersive, it is a social platform. One of my best friends is on there many times a week and she plays more than her sons.

    My sons are both very big in LOL (League of Legends). One even has his own youtube channel where he regularly posts videos for LOL fans. They have been playing WOW for years, and even had me playing for quite a while a few years ago. The game does require tremendous skill, and LOL is one of the most competitive online games, even being the most popular eSport. I begin running all over the place feeling like a headless chicken. :D

    This is a link to one of his videos on his channel. As long as I don’t post to his school friends he is okay with it.



    1. A small glimmer of the huge world of games that many folk have no idea about. I’m hoping that after the last couple of weeks I’m actually going to have a chance to get into it again. Cross fingers. 13000+ views of the video, that’s a respectable number.

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