The Art of Learning

Last summer I picked up Chessmaster The Art of Learning for the PSP to take with me on my frequent business trips.  One of the things that adds extra value to this game is the involvement of Josh Waitzkin.  (You may remember Josh as the subject of book, and film, Searching For Bobby Fischer.)

On my trip out to Arizona last week I read Josh’s book The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance.  It is a quick read, so I had finished by the end of the day, but soaking it all in will take a little longer.  Over the past few days I’ve been re-reading sections, marking up the margins, jotting down notes to myself in my notebook about the many insights that Waitzkin provides. I have the feeling that this book will end up with a permanent slot on the bookshelf above my desk; this is where I keep those books I turn back to over and over.

In some ways, The Art of Learning is like George Leonard’s Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment and The Way of Aikido: Life Lessons from an American Sensei (both of which are on that aforementioned shelf). But where Leonard tells the story of a middle-aged man who sets out on a path of mastery later in life, Waitkin’s story is one of reflection on a life of a child and young adult who essentially started life on the path, lost his way, and then found his way back.

For myself I found his insights valuable, if not obvious in the sense that all good ideas are obvious when someone else gives them voice.  As the parent of two very talented and hard working teenagers, Waitzkin’s insights are invaluable.

Games and learning

I’ve had a strong interest in video games on a personal level for many years (see this page for some of my thoughts). More recently, I’ve become interested on a professional level in the potential for games to be used to support learning and other ‘serious’ purposes – hence the name “Serious Games“.

I see the techniques and technologies of video games playing an increasing role in helping to close the work literacy gap. This is especially true as games and systems become increasingly “network ready” and the games become more multi-player and social.

Commenting to a story in the Wall Street Journal, the Educational Games Research blog writes in the post PSP Mini-nets Show Small Group Potential:

The possibilities of harnessing the mini-net features of the PSP are striking. Small groups could be set up with the PSP to tackle a project together in an educational game. Excluding other players from the groups would allow a room full of students working on PSPs to organize into teams working on objectives within the game.

This is obviously a very small-scale, artificial (ie, classroom) situation, but it does show the potential of “social” games to help teach, and to help learn.