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Gee's principles of good learning

By Steve Draper,   Department of Psychology,   University of Glasgow.

From: James Paul Gee (2004) "Learning by design: Games as learning machines" Interactive Educational Multimedia no.8 pp.15-23

  1. Empowered learners
    1. Co-design Good learning requires that learners feel like active agents (producers) not just passive recipients (consumers).
    2. Customize Different styles of learning work better for different people. People cannot be agents of their own learning if they cannot make decisions about how their learning will work. At the same time, they should be able (and encouraged) to try new styles.
    3. Identity Deep learning requires an extended commitment and such a commitment is powerfully recruited when people take on a new identity they value and in which they become heavily invested — whether this be a child "being a scientist doing science" in a classroom or an adult taking on a new role at work.
    4. Manipulation Cognitive research suggests that for humans perception and action are deeply inter-connected. Thus, fine-grained action at a distance — for example, when a person is manipulating a robot at a distance or watering a garden via a web cam on the Internet — causes humans to feel as if their bodies and minds have stretched into a new space. More generally, humans feel expanded and empowered when then can manipulate powerful tools in intricate ways that extend their area of effectiveness.

  2. Problem solving
    1. Well-Ordered Problems Given human creativity, if learners face problems early on that are too free-form or too complex, they often form creative hypotheses about how to solve these problems, but hypotheses that don't work well for later problems (even for simpler ones, let alone harder ones). They have been sent down a "garden path". The problems learners face early on are crucial and should be well-designed to lead them to solutions that work well, not just on these problems, but as aspects of the solutions to later, harder problems.
    2. Pleasantly Frustrating Learning works best when new challenges are pleasantly frustrating in the sense of being felt by learners to be at the outer edge of, but within, their "regime of competence". That is, these challenges feel hard, but doable. Furthermore, learners feel — and get evidence — that their effort is paying off in the sense that they can see, even when they fail, how and if they are making progress.
    3. Cycles of Expertise Expertise is formed in any area by repeated cycles of learners practicing skills until they are nearly automatic, then having those skills fail in ways that cause the learners to have to think again and learn anew. Then they practice this new skill set to an automatic level of mastery only to see it, too, eventually be challenged.
    4. Information "On Demand" and "Just in Time" Human beings are quite poor at using verbal information (i.e., words) when given lots of it out of context and before that can see how it applies in actual situations. They use verbal information best when it is given "just in time" (when they can put it to use) and "on demand" (when they feel they need it).
    5. Fish tanks In the real world, a fish tank can be a little simplified eco-system that clearly displays some critical variables and their interactions that are otherwise obscured in the highly complex eco-system in the real world. Using the term metaphorically, fish tanks are good for learning: if we create simplified systems, stressing a few key variables and their interactions, learners who would otherwise be overwhelmed by a complex system (e.g., Newton's Laws of Motion operating in the real world) get to see some basic relationships at work and take the first steps towards their eventual mastery of the real system (e.g., they begin to know what to pay attention to).
    6. Sandboxes Sandboxes in the real world are safe havens for children that still look and feel like the real world. Using the term metaphorically, sandboxes are good for learning: if learners are put into a situation that feels like the real thing, but with risks and dangers greatly mitigated, they can learn well and still feel a sense of authenticity and accomplishment.
    7. Skills as Strategies There is a paradox involving skills: People don't like practicing skills out of context over and over again, since they find such skill practice meaningless, but, without lots of skill practice, they cannot really get any good at what they are trying to learn. People learn and practice skills best when they see a set of related skills as a strategy to accomplish goals they want to accomplish.

  3. Understanding
    1. System Thinking People learn skills, strategies, and ideas best when they see how they fit into an overall larger system to which they give meaning. In fact, any experience is enhanced when we understand how it fits into a larger meaningful whole.
    2. Meaning as action image Humans do not usually think through general definitions and logical principles. Rather, they think through experiences they have had. You don't think and reason about weddings on the basis of generalities, but in terms of the wedding you have been to and heard about. It's your experiences that give weddings and the word "wedding" meaning(s). Furthermore, for humans, words and concepts have their deepest meanings when they are clearly tied to action in the world.

Another version of Gee's principles

  • original source

    Drawn from Gee, James Paul (2003) What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy, Palgrave Macmillan: New York

    1) Active, Critical Learning Principle
    All aspects of the the learning environment (including ways in which the semiotic domain is designed and presented) are set up to encourage active and critical, not passive, learning.

    2) Design Principle
    Learning about and coming to appreciate design and design principles is core to the leaning experience.

    3) Semiotic Principle
    Learning about and coming to appreciate interrelations within and across multiple sign systems (images, words, actions, symbols, artifacts, etc.) as a complex system is core to the learning experience.

    4) Semiotic Domains Principle
    Leaning involves mastering, at some level, semiotic domains, and being able to participate, at some level, in the affinity group or groups connected to them.

    5) Meta-level thinking about Semiotic Domain Principle
    Learning involves active and critical thinking about the relationships of the semiotic domain being learned to other semiotic domains.

    6) "Psychosocial Moratorium" Principle
    Learners can take risks in a space where real-world consequences are lowered.

    7) Committed Learning Principle
    Learners participate in an extended engagement (lots of effort and practice) as an extension of their real-world identities in relation to a virtual identity to which they feel some commitment and a virtual world that they find compelling.

    8) Identity Principle
    Learning involves taking on and playing with identities in such a way that the learner has real choices (in developing the virtual identity) and ample opportunity to meditate on the relationship between new identities and old ones. There is a tripartite play of identities as learners relate, and reflect on, their multiple real-world identities, a virtual identity, and a projective identity.

    9) Self-Knowledge Principle
    The virtual world is constructed in such a way that learners learn not only about the domain but also about themselves and their current and potential capacities.

    10) Amplification of Input Principle
    For a little input, learners get a lot of output.

    11) Achievement Principle
    For learners of all levels of skill there are intrinsic rewards from the beginning, customized to each learner's level, effort, and growing mastery and signaling the learner's ongoing achievements.

    12) Practice Principle
    Learners get lots and lots of practice in a context where the practice is not boring (i.e. in a virtual world that is compelling to learners on their own terms and where the learners experience ongoing success). They spend lots of time on task.

    13. Ongoing Learning Principle
    The distinction between the learner and the master is vague, since learners, thanks to the operation of the "regime of competency" principle listed next, must, at higher and higher levels, undo their routinized mastery to adapt to new or changed conditions. There are cycles of new learning, automatization, undoing automatization, and new re-organized automatization.

    14) "Regime of Competence" Principle
    The learner gets ample opportunity to operate within, but at the outer edge of, his or her resources, so that at those points things are felt as challenging but not "undoable".

    15) Probing Principle
    Learning is a cycle of probing the world (doing something); reflecting in and on this action and, on this basis, forming a hypothesis; reprobing the world to test this hypothesis; and then accepting or rethinking the hypothesis.

    16) Multiple Routes Principle
    There are multiple ways to make progress or move ahead. This allows learners to make choices, rely on their own strengths and styles of learning and problem-solving, while also exploring alternative styles.

    17) Situated Meaning Principle
    The meanings of signs (words, actions, objects, artifacts, symbols, texts, etc.) are situated in embodied experience. Meanings are not general or decontextualized. Whatever generality meanings come to have is discovered bottom up via embodied experience.

    18) Text Principle
    Texts are not understood purely verbally (i.e. only in terms of the definitions of the words in the text and their text-internal relationships to each other) but are understood in terms of embodied experience. Learners move back and forth between texts and embodied experiences. More purely verbal understanding (reading texts apart from embodied action) comes only when learners have enough embodied experience in the domain and ample experiences with similar texts.

    19) Intertextual Principle
    The learner understands texts as a family ("genre") of related texts and understands any one text in relation to others in the family, but only after having achieved embodied understandings of some texts. Understanding a group of texts as a family ("genre") of texts is a large part of what helps the learner to make sense of texts.

    20) Multimodal Principle
    Meaning and knowledge ate built up through various modalities (images, texts, symbols, interactions, abstract design, sound, etc.), not just words.

    21) "Material Intelligence" Principle
    Thinking, problem-solving and knowledge are "stored" in material objects and the environment. This frees learners to engage their minds with other things while combining the results of their own thinking with the knowledge stored in material objects and the environment to achieve yet more powerful effects.

    22) Intuitive Knowledge Principle
    Intuitive or tacit knowledge built up in repeated practice and experience, often in association with an affinity group, counts a good deal and is honored. Not just verbal and conscious knowledge is rewarded.

    23) Subset Principle
    Learning even at its start takes place in a (simplified) subset of the real domain.

    24) Incremental Principle
    Learning situations are ordered in the early stages so that earlier cases lead to generalizations that are fruitful for later cases. When learners face more complex cases later, the learning space (the number and type of guess the learner can make) is constrained by the sorts of fruitful patterns or generalizations the learned has found earlier.

    25) Concentrated Sample Principle
    The learner sees, especially early on, many more instances of the fundamental signs and actions than should be the case in a less controlled sample. Fundamental signs and actions are concentrated in the early stages so that learners get to practice them often and learn them well.

    26) Bottom-up Basic Skills Principle
    Basic skills are not learned in isolation or out of context; rather, what counts as a basic skill is discovered bottom up by engaging in more and more of the game/domain or games/domains like it. Basic skills are genre elements of a given type of game/domain.

    27) Explicit Information On-Demand and Just-in-Time Principle
    The learner is given explicit information both on-demand and just-in-time, when the learner needs it or just at the point where the information can best be understood and used in practice.

    28) Discovery Principle
    Overt telling is kept to a well-thought-out minimum, allowing ample opportunities for the learner to experiment and make discoveries.

    29) Transfer Principle
    Learners are given ample opportunity to practice, and support for, transferring what they have learned earlier to later problems, including problems that require adapting and transforming that earlier learning.

    30) Cultural Models about the World Principle
    Learning is set up in such a way that learners come to think consciously and reflectively about some of their cultural models regarding the world, without denigration of their identities, abilities or social affiliations, and juxtapose them to new models that may conflict with or otherwise relate to them in various ways.

    31) Cultural Models about Learning Principle
    Learning is set up in such a way that learners come to think consciously and reflectively about their cultural models about learning and themselves as learners, without denigration of their identities, abilities, or social affiliations, and juxtapose them to new models of learning and themselves as learners.

    32) Cultural Models about Semiotic Domains Principle
    Learning is set up in such a way thsat learners come to think consicously and reflectively about their cultural models about a particular semiotic domain they are learning, without denigration of their identities, abilities, or social affiliations, and juxtapose them to new models about this domain.

    33) Distributed Principle
    Meaning/knowledge is distributed across the learner, objects, tools, symbols, technologies, and the environment.

    34) Dispersed Principle
    Meaning/knowledge is dispersed in the sense that the learner shares it with others outside the domain/game, some of whom the learner may rarely or never see face-to-face.

    35) Affinity Group Principle
    Learners constitute an "affinity group", that is, a group that is bonded primarily through shared endeavours, goals, and practices and not shared race, gender, nation, ethnicity, or culture.

    36) Insider Principle
    The learner is an "insider," "teacher," and "producer" (not just a consumer) able to customize the learning experience and the domain/game from the beginning and throughout the experience.


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