The Role of Serious Gaming in Secondary Language Acquisition/Learning

As a foreign language educator who holds an almost unwavering approach to traditional classroom learning, I often question the direction of today’s educational methodologies and wonder if they are doing more damage than good. When we, as foreign language educators, find new technology we immediately look at how we can integrate that technology into the classroom, but we often overlook the intricate details that matter most.

  • Was this technology designed for the purpose I am going to use it?
  • What are the limiting factors that will make this technology irrelevant after a few weeks/months/years?
  • What is the return on educational investment for trying to convince others to integrate this technology into the mainstream organization?
  • Will this technology teach students poor study skills?

These are very important questions to ask, and even more important considering Millennials, persons born within the two decades before the turn of the 21st century, will soon make up fifty percent (50%) of the global working age population… and they grew up refining the use of technology as part of their core physiological development skills. As these Millennials continue to enter the workforce and climb their respective corporate ladders, it is apparent there is absolutely no way around incorporating technology into the “classroom”, especially when that technology can make Secondary Language Acquisition/Learning (SLA/L) training more relevant, immersive and cost effective.

But, while Millennials will soon make up half of the working age population, what about those that have had to adapt to technology? As a member of the cusp’er generation, meaning I am in between the Baby Boomers/Gen X’ers and the Millennials, I can see the controlling generation slowly making room for the rising generations beneath them. However, how can the controlling generation pass the baton to the rising generation unless they impart their knowledge? And how can they pass along that knowledge unless it is done in a meaningful way that connects with how the younger generations learn?

Because technology moves almost as fast as the genius minds that create it, there is a large gap between “knowledge givers” and “knowledge seekers”. Those who have the knowledge and experience want to pass it along to the knowledge seekers, but technology often inhibits a seamless process because knowledge givers cannot fully relate to the technological medium through which knowledge must be transferred. Point blank, traditional classroom-style SLA/L is simply not compatible with Millennials’ approach to learning, but that is because foreign language training needs to be “active” instead of “passive”, and traditional classroom SLA/L training cannot offer any meaningful level of active immersion. Because our educational system is designed around the physical classroom, we have to find a happy medium through which knowledge and experience can be transferred.

The good news is that advent processes are democratizing the technology needed to modernize the SLA/L classroom, whether physical or virtual. In terms of 3D Serious Gaming, we are now able to use Augmented Reality (AR) in lieu of traditional Virtual Reality (VR), which is the keystone ingredient that is often misunderstood by those of us that had to learn about technology rather than growing up with it.

For years, classrooms have augmented physical, real-world environments with computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics, et cetera, and with the decrease in costs of AR, we can now envision merging real and virtual worlds wherein physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time (*see Microsoft Hololens). It is important to note that traditional VR is just now becoming affordable and widely available enough to enter the traditional classroom; however, AR is still in its infancy comparatively. Regardless of current cost and availability, we, as educators, must start to consider what that means for the future of Serious Gaming with regard to SLA/L. In short, training will no longer be limited by the constraints of the physical world. Very soon, we will be able to use the traditional SLA/L classroom in a way that connects with the way Millennials learn, and we will be able to do it in a much more cost effective manner than before.

While we see AR as becoming the norm for training, it doesn’t mean legacy SLA/L training will all of the sudden becomes obsolete. Instead, this is simply a new modality to deliver training. It will make academic and performance SLA/L instruction simultaneous by changing the way we see our physical environment, which will enrich the learning experience for the learners. This is because it will allow traditional SLA/L educators to remain attached to their physical classrooms while also allowing for richer, more in-depth teaching points in a more immersive, interactive and augmented manner. This point notwithstanding, the use of AR technology must be focused and purposeful. Meaning, there must an intentional design and reason for the technology to exist within the SLA/L classroom; it cannot be introduced without any cognitive foresight or anticipatory direction.

Understanding that technology cannot simply replace SLA/L academic classroom instruction, we do see how technology can supplement and vastly improve the practical application portions of career field curricula wherein teachers can assist learners with the hands-on application of a given skill and the technical language needed to master it. For example, Creative Veteran Productions (CVP) has built an English for a Specific Purpose (ESP) training course that uses VocAdemics to address the parallel non-disparateness between academic lexis and occupational vernacular that often hinders SLA/L. Meaning, ESL students become overwhelmed with and fixate on information that has no discernible or connected meaning between the multitude of concepts they are learning (both academic and career technical alike), so they require more “hands-on” skills training to help correlate practical application to academic concepts.

Of particular importance, amongst the foreign-born workers/job-seekers community, there is a lack of functional and job-based technical English language skills, which impacts their ability to fully integrate into the US workforce. In its most basic form, our English for a Specific Purpose (ESP) VocAdemic program allows job-seekers to develop their functional English language skills as well as their technical English language skills while refining the focus to specific trades or skills.

For example, in the construction trades it is important to make sure a “rough opening is plumb, level and square”. However, in mathematics classes, we teach concepts such as vertical, horizontal, parallel and perpendicular; these are the same concepts, but they are the academic lexical versions of their respective “on-the-job, occupational vernacularisms.” There is no direct correlation between the words themselves because we teach them as disparate singular concepts relative to each respective skill set, and, while students understand the use of mathematics in construction, they still view them as completely dissimilar concepts with no discernible relationship.

In this regard, when technology is focused to enhance SLA/L academic objectives through real-time performance interaction in a Virtual Environment, it helps expedite practical fluency and gives relevance to why the learner is participating in the first place. Within the ESL community, it is best summed up through a Confucius saying circa 450 BC, “Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand.” By using VR or AR, we can accelerate the correlation of more intangible and abstract concepts, which drastically increases functional fluency.

To learn more about the SLA/L virtual learning concept, please watch the instructional video for our ESP Learning Games Construction Series: Framing.

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