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Five reasons why Pokémon Go is the future of education…

1. It’s popular.

2. It’s fun.

3. It’s on phones and kids like their phones, so education of the future will have to be on phones.

4. It utilizes augmented reality, which is better than reality because as Jane McGonigal tells us, “reality is broken,” so if we can fix reality be augmenting it, we should.

5. Disruptive technology is coming for education, and if previous disruptive technologies such as MOOCs, adaptive software, Instagram, Uber, Snapchat, Twitter, badges, Candy Crush, the Kardashians, microcredentials, Comet Hale-Bopp, and so on haven’t managed to disrupt education, then surely Pokémon Go will because something has to eventually.

…and one reason it won’t.

1. No one knows the future of education, and in fact, the future of education will never arrive because the future is always in the future, which means we should spend a lot more energy considering the present.

I downloaded and played Pokémon Go long enough to sufficiently understand its appeal, after which I deleted the app because I could tell its existence on my phone was incompatible with my goal of finishing a novel manuscript this summer. I’m even too old to experience Pokémon nostalgia and still could sense its potential for becoming all-consuming.

Even in record-setting heat I’ve seen kids roaming my neighborhood, provisioned with extra hydration and external chargers for their smart phones. When I jogged by the local Pokémon “gym” at 6:15 in the morning, three people were already there, engrossed in combat.

I do not mean to harsh the buzz of Pokémon Go fans. It looks legitimately fun, and the salutary  benefits of getting people off their couches and into the world (even in this unbelievable heat) are all to the good. Downtown Charleston was lousy with players talking, coaching, socializing. If I wasn’t under this self-imposed deadline, I might’ve joined in.

The cooperative, public nature of the game is genuinely exciting. There’s reports of the shy feeling emboldened to interact in the context of the game and people struggling with depression find the game motivating to get out in the world. We should be interested in studying this power.

But I can also already hear the ed-tech machine grinding away trying to spin this phenomenon into disruption gold.

Because of this we should keep some things in mind.

I do believe the game has taken off because it shares something important with good education, emphasizing process over product – it is actively fun to play - but while the gameplay is cooperative, it is also a competition, that carries all the usual pressures and incentives to prioritize “winning” over playing, product over process. I am reminded of the Tamagotchi craze of the 90’s, hearing a colleague’s bag chirping during a meeting, and after her satisfying the device’s need, explaining how her daughter’s school had banned the game, and so she promised to keep the virtual creature alive during the day.

There is probably some parent out there already, not enjoying the game in tandem with their child, but capturing Pokémons and leveling up on their kid’s behalf.

We should also notice that Pokémon Go replicates some of the existing divides already present in education. Players of means with more access to time, data, money (for power-ups and lures) will do better than those without. There is already a Pokémon Go gap between those who pay for their upgrades v. those who have to earn each level, the old-fashioned way, but hurling virtual balls at virtual monsters.

Even after a week, I imagine there are players who are priced out of competing at the most coveted gyms, who are defeated by a system where others have access to more resources.

Others have raised the concerns about the amount and kind of data that players are asked to relinquish for the opportunity to play the game.

Technology is a tool, and I hope and trust that some smart people are thinking about how the popularity of this particularl tool can be translated into the educational realm.

But let’s not mistake the tool for the thing itself. Education is the thing. Too often in our rush for a technological solution to current problems, we redefine the thing into something technology can handle. Technology can’t handle the complicated, but meaningful stuff, so we flatten, we standardize.

This is why we have people working on software that can grade essays. Software will never be able to truly respond to writing as humans do, so we have to train the humans to write essays that satisfy the limits of the algorithm.

But writing that is read only by algorithms isn’t writing, so why are we messing around with that stuff?

Progress? Disruption?

Education doesn’t happen to students, but inside them. I can’t remember where I heard that, but it’s true.

We don't need education to look more like Pokémon Go just because it's popular. What makes Pokémon Go and enjoyable game may have nothing to do with making education compelling.

The magic (if you want to call it that) of Pokémon Go isn’t the technology, but what the technology unlocks inside the person using it. If Pokémon Go is meant to inform the work of educators, let’s focus on that, rather than the technological tool itself.




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