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What you really learned at school

By on November 26, 2010
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School are churning out the unemployable.


That’s the provocative title of Ewan MacIntosh’s marvellous blog post about how schools are failing our children, our businesses and hence our entire society.

He quotes (we’re getting a bit nested here), Don Ledingham’s summary of Alan McCluskey from the Swiss Agency for ICT in education:

The 7 Tacit Lessons Which Schools Teach Children

  • Knowledge is scarce
  • Learning needs a specific place and specific time (lessons in classrooms)
  • Knowledge is best learnt in disconnected little pieces (lessons)
  • To learn you need the help of an approved expert i.e. a teacher
  • To learn you need to follow a path determined by a learning expert (a course of study)
  • You need an expert to assess your progress (a teacher)
  • You can attribute a meaningful numerical value to the value of learning (marks, grades, degrees)

Why am I writing about this in a blog about the business of games?

Because we are going through a period of massive change in the games industry and, to quote screenwriter William Goldman:

“Nobody knows anything”

We are all experimenting, playing, creating, exploring and, above all, learning. We are going through a process of learning via doing, of experimenting and failing, of trying and iterating.

If we can’t do that – because we don’t know how to learn – we are going to get left behind. As Ewan fears our children may be getting left behind.

On the one hand, it’s mad of me to bring this up. I put myself forward as an expert (i.e. the author of How to Publish a Game), who teaches at specific times and places in disconnected little pieces (i.e. masterclasses) and I make consulting money because my knowledge is scarce.

So why would I tell you that you don’t need an expert teacher to learn?

The answer is because I believe strongly that what I do is not tell people what to do; I teach people how to learn about social games, or self-publishing or digital distribution. I talk about what is going on and why. I don’t have a playbook that clients should follow slavishly. I have a set of frameworks that you can apply to any game, any business, to understand how to make the game more popular, and make more money.

In short, I don’t teach people answers. I teach them how to learn.

Which is why I am so dispirited to learn that schools have stopped doing that.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve:
  • That’s a great post. Unlike the author, I feel that there is more hope. Not least the arrival of the Internet leading to massively improved opportunities for self-education.

    The most importnant change that needs to happen is that we need to teach children how to learn, not how to be taught. If we make that change, the future is indeed bright

  • Jason

    Here’s a variation on that theme (predating the cited blog post).

  • That was a great post from Dan. I agree with you that degrees are currency – the problem is that with widening access, they become devalued, and employers have to look for other evidence of hard work, commitment and ability than merely a degree.
    I do fear that too many students don’t realise this.

  • Nick McCrea

    This really resonates with me, and coincides with this article I read in the Telegraph

    A degree still has huge value, precisely because people continue to BELIEVE it has value. It is akin to a currency. It would take some kind of collective shift in perception for that to change, which in some ways is a shame, because given access to the requisite resources and the right motivation, the capacity for people to learn outside of formal institutions is quite wonderful.

  • The biggest takeway for me here is that companies are looking for “interesting demos and work experience”.

    Given how easy it is to make and finish a game these days (Unity, Torque, Flash , Shiva etc) and distribute (Facebook, iPhone, Kongregate, NewGrounds etc), it seems that you *must* make a game, even if it isn’t commercially successful in order to stand out.

  • I agree with you Nicholas. Teaching people how to learn is the most important skill. I can’t tell you how many industrial review boards I’ve attended for graduate courses where I’ve complained that their degrees aren’t ensuring that their students are being taught how to learn. Most of the course administrators agree with me but their forced into a more vocational (for want of a better word) method of teaching. This is why more and more companies are looking for interesting demos and work experience during interviews. It’s the only way we know that the candidate can think for themselves.