• Becca, Learning Wayfinder

Digital and Games-Based Learning

Top 10 Takeaways from the Scottish Learning Group's March Meet up

Catherine Morgan is some kind of awesome. The kind that makes you want to aim high and make a change if you need it, go freelance, travel the world…I introduced her to the group as a ‘learning guru’, and I meant it. She’s created university courses, lesson plans, ace project management, and is developing an online STEM course.

Minecraft is naturally good at engaging and motivating children to learn. It does it without trying and it gives them full creative autonomy over everything they wish to learn about. I believe that is why Immersive Minds find it to be such a powerful learning tool, over other, equally amazing, technology. - Catherine

Catherine, who is now the Project Manager – Education and Outreach at the equally awesome Immersive Minds (Twitter: @ImmersiveMinds) met the Scottish Learning Group in a pub and talked us through Minecraft and digital learning. But most of her examples were about Minecraft, because Minecraft is cool and appeals to a wide audience (at Immersive Minds' events it seems to be the most popular for ages 3-20). In turn, we added in a dash of our informal learning expertise and talked each other through our own personal learning journeys. And so we all learned something and came away on a high from, as Catherine tweeted later: ‘being surrounded by such passionate, motivated educators who love learning!’

Top 10 Takeaways:

1. don’t be afraid…of technology

Learning underpins everything. While technology can be used to enhance user’s experience and reach goals, it is your expertise and practice that are still the keys to creating effective learning programmes.

2. other learning enthusiasts that you work with may be afraid of technology

Help them by showing them the potential of technology – this gets them enthused and confident.

  • *learning practice: I say that good place to start with this is something close to home, like introducing someone to Evernote and how to use it to create an accessible, searchable, beautifully organised digital recipe binder because it can even recognise/search your handwriting!

3. create a common language before you start

It’s all about planning what can be used to improve a user/audience’s experience: before beginning a project, Catherine and her team, including a techie and a user-interface graduate – put together everything they know about the client’s organisational aims and search for any hidden goals implicit in their public information. With these in mind, they start making their thinking visible – literally, using pieces of paper and sticky notes spread on the floor - about what learning activities, platforms and software would fit. Catherine calls this a ‘schematic overlay of opportunities and technology’ (see picture below). This group mind-mapping exercise means that they have a common framework when it comes to recommending what Immersive Minds thinks would be best for their client.

  • learning practice: don’t work in isolation. Before you start a new event, project or direction for your learning programme, get together with colleagues (including the Scottish Learning Group!) to map out what your/your organisation’s known and hidden aims are in order to match to your new programming and aims in new ways.


Nothing will alay fears of tech not working, and activities not running smoothly than good preparation. This applies as much to 'team meetings, staff on-boarding, client liaison as it does to engagement activities' - Catherine.

  • learning practice: this includes training staff on how to reset a game and turn equipment off and on so there are no panics if something stops working mid-session.

5. Apps and games can make learners thinking and hidden beliefs visible...

...if you just provide the game and the only listen

  • learning practice: The Plan, a free-to-play game -featuring a fly who flies around (*spoiler alert!) and then dies- has kids talking about the point of human existence and their world views. Try The Plan and let us know how it went

6. use the right tool for the job

Digital isn’t everything. Digital platforms are shiny, and we know that kids love computer games like Minecraft…but that doesn’t mean Minecraft and other apps are the answer to every programme/organisation wanting to add spice to their engagement offering. Catherine also creates lessons plans for good old fashioned, hands-on learning activities, such as a classroom-based DNA activity with balloons which set the scene for pupil’s later work in Minecraft.

audiences need variety and you can apply what they're learning into different contexts, including digital - Catherine
  • learning practice: have a think - make sure you aren’t using technology for technology’s sake

7. how can we use learning programmes to tackle bigger issues in society?

At Immersive Minds they think: ‘I need to solve this problem’ and then work towards doing so. For example, they created a Maker Space with Skills Development Scotland in Inverness. Skills Development Scotland had identified a digital skills gap, yet the there was demand, with digital industries in the area. Immersive Minds targeted specific digital literacy skills when they created a Creative Suite with media production (e.g. to manipulate digital images).

  • learning practice: set up learning opportunities which require a keyboard and mouse. Our grownup, fine motor-skills on mice and keyboards, honed from the 1980s onwards by work, computer games and recreation on actual desktops, are lacking in kids, even older kids, thanks to tablets. This is a problem highlighted in this TES about Scotland's P1 literacy tests, which criticises the tests' mouse-skills/use requirement.

8. create layers of learning

Good digital learning offers self-reliant learning, where learners take away what they want from it, such as exploring a new world or choosing to do activities that are built in.

  • learning practice: use interplay between real life and digital worlds, such as geocaching in our world and plant corresponding digital finds in Minecraft

9. Boost learning

It's a case of ‘here’s a new thing that I can do’ on top of something they have a little bit of knowledge about already.

  • learning practice: introduce coding on Minecraft to kids who currently play the game

10. I recommend this digital learning book:

Documenting Learning: Making Thinking Visible, Meaningful, Shareable and Amplified

  • learning practice: create a community of reader-learners by doing the exercises and sharing your work via Twitter @doc4learning

-Rebecca Boyde, Learning Wayfinder - Scottish Learning Group