Module 2: The LW4K Method

LearningWorks Live Instructor Training

Module 2

Generalizations and Transfer

Psychologists define generalization as the transfer of an action learned in one setting to a different setting, so that individuals are fully able to use the skills they have learned in one environment in other settings, with other people, and with different materials. Generalization is one of the transcendent themes of learning and education. It’s about taking what you have learned from reading and discussing a chemistry book in class and applying it to an experiment, learning dribbling skills in practice and then executing a crossover in a basketball game,  or watching your grandmother making her famous apple pie and then being able to do it yourself. If you think about these three examples, they share one key ingredient, that is, of a teacher or model who helps you transfer your learning from one set of experiences to other settings and situations.

LW4K is all about making game-based learning into real world learning. We provide mediators (parents, educators, child care professionals) with knowledge, talking points and activities that take what kids learn in games and help transfer this to their daily life. LW4K is based upon the idea that digital media can practice many important thinking/executive skills in an engaging and motivating manner, resulting in intensive practice  and duration and effort in “training”. While there is substantial research that playing video games  alone can improve some efs/ skills such as processing speed, fluid reasoning, selective attention, and working memory…it only can do so much, as generalization across settings appears to be limited.  Our work is to create tools, modules, methods  to amplify the generalization of skills

How to Improve Game-Based Learning with Generalization

If you want to improve your aerobic capacity, play full-court basketball instead of softball. If you want to improve your analytical skills learn to play chess or bridge, not Chutes and Ladders. If you really want to improve your aerobic conditioning or your analytical skills, play against people who are better than you, and see if they’ll teach you a few tricks. If you want to use video games to improve your child’s problem-solving skills and performance at school, you’ll need to choose the right games, ensure they are challenging enough, and — most importantly — connect the skills used in them to real-world situations and academic tasks.

This process is known as the generalization of learning.

As we’ve said before, not all video games are created equally. Some, like Portal 2, clearly challenge cognitive capacities such as thinking ahead and adapting to problems. Action-based games, such as Halo and Call of Duty, challenge players’ capacity to increase the speed in which visual information is processed, which has been demonstrated to improve processing speed in other activities. Games that demand less-intensive concentration, on the other hand, appear too have limited cognitive benefits when compared to more mentally-tasking games.

Just because video game play can improve a cognitive skill, however, doesn’t mean the skills practiced in the game can be easily generalized and applied to other real-world tasks. In other words, improving your Planning skills while playing Portal 2 doesn’t mean you will necessarily display flawless preparation when it comes time to get your child’s birthday party together, or have a perfect menu for your next dinner party. Just like the near-perfect swing you practice at your golf lessons doesn’t ensure great shots at every hole on the golf course, the generalization of skills and the application of their benefits is an uneven and sometimes frustrating process.

So, if you’re looking to better apply those golf lessons next time you tee up for a swing, or want to boost your child’s ability to generalize game-based learning to the real world, you can follow a number of tried and true approaches. These include:

  • Target problem areas. Find the best games to practice the identified skills. If your child is disorganized, look for games such as RPGs (role-playing games) that require sequencing or accumulating items or coins to purchase supplies.
  • Embrace variety. Practice the skills you want to improve in a variety of ways. If you want to improve your iron game in golf, you’ll need to vary your distance, whether you are hitting from the fairway, the rough, or a sand trap and learn to hit with loft to go over obstacles. In video games, practicing the same skill with a variety of games improves the chance that the player will be able to apply it to new situations he encounters in his daily activities.
  • Learn by trial-and-error. Generalization requires that you learn from your mistakes, so your child should play increasingly challenging games where initial failure is common. Just like you might have to practice hitting from the rough before finding the best technique and club, players can use metacognitive skills to reassess their strategies and therefore learn new skills in game play.
  • Be willing to ask for help. If you can get your child to recognize her need to improve a specific skill, she may be more willing to look for ways that she can practice and master the skill in her gameplay and ask for your help in applying it outside of the game.
  • Use multiple modalities for practice. Generalization works best when practice occurs across settings and with a variety of tools. Video game play is only one tool, albeit a fun and engaging approach, to mastering thinking and academic skills. Encourage strategies such as observation, modeling, shadowing, rehearsal, visualizing, and self-instruction. Then make sure they try out their newly acquired skills in the real world.

Training Modules

Follow along with each of the training modules by clicking on the buttons below.

Detect, Reflect, Connect

At LearningWorks for Kids, we use video games and other digital technologies as teaching tools that promote both direct and indirect learning. Direct learning may occur from learning the content of video games and from enhancing skills, such as memory, processing speed, and attention, that are directly involved in gameplay. Indirect learning comes from the process of gameplay itself and generally requires an external lesson or an individual beyond the game itself to promote real-world learning.

Many authors and researchers including James Paul Gee, Mark Prensky, Jane McGonical, and Henry Jenkins assert that video games alone can teach problem solving and critical thinking skills. At LearningWorks for Kids we have a more cautious outlook. While clearly, players use an array of skills when playing video games, we question whether the thinking and problem solving skills used in game play are routinely transferred to real world activities. This is a fundamental concern for alternative learners who by definition, struggle in transferring knowledge from one setting to another.

Detect, Reflect, Connect

Our core approach to using video games as teaching tools relies on strategic teaching principles and our approach of “Detect, Reflect, and Connect.” Applying strategic teaching skills to videos games requires players to:

  • Detect or identify when and where they are using thinking skills in video game play.
  • Reflect or consider how the thinking skills used during gameplay helps them to achieve their goals.
  • Connect or apply game-based thinking skills to real-world activities.

The purpose of the Detect, Reflect, and Connect steps is to mold the child into an active learner who becomes aware of, engaged in, and contemplative of what she is learning. These steps can enhance motivation and concentration. They also assist in extending learning beyond a particular game or technology and connecting it to the real world.

Strategic Teaching

Strategic teaching principles are well-researched, scientific approaches for the instruction of students who struggle in traditional classrooms. These principles also enhance learning for typical students but are particularly suitable for those who struggle with organization, memory, and transferring what they learn from one context to another. Applying these principles to digital media transforms them into powerful real-world teaching tools.

Strategic Teaching Goals:

  1. Make the goal explicit- inform the kids about why they are here

  2. Partner with the kids- help them to have the same goals, provide an activity (e.g. show how dictation is faster than writing, how organizing a box of legos makes a task easier) that helps them to see the rationale for the goals or ask them to describe how achieving the goals will help them

  3. Customize, by trying to determine what the child already knows (in group settings, see if you can get each child to identify a specific area to improve and address) or at least have some method to say in a variety of ways that this skill will help you (eg. dictation gives you more time to edit your writing and is not as messy as handwriting or improving your listening skills gets more people to talk to you)

  4. It’s got to be fun and engaging. Clearly state when you are going to practice the skill, and then practice it in a fun way. Worry less about teaching the skill and more about practicing and noticing it. Encourage interaction, cooperation, competition, and discussion. If you have an activity, make it so there might be competition and sharing.

  5. Preview all lessons and teaching- you “prime the pump”  when you say we will be working on this “topic” to help kids to know what to pay attention to , what is most important to take away. It helps to say these are the takeaways today. “We’ll be working on managing your time today so you can become more efficient.
  6. Find teachable moments. Do not be afraid to repeat yourself as it takes repetition for kids to learn these skills. You can go back to a previous weeks lesson if something comes up that fits.It is always best if the kids can identify these situations themselves.
  7. Get the kids to teach each other. The best way to learn is to teach, so a kid teaching another child is probably learning more by talking than listening. And kids will often learn more from their peers than from you. If you need to correct a child who is not teaching properly, do so while praising their effort and clarifying the issue.
  8. Encourage questions. You can ask questions, or get the kids to ask each other questions. One of the best ways to truly learn a skill is to be quizzed on it, rather than just repeating it. Quizzes, questions and discussion promote insight, reflection, and metacognition that helps a child to know how to apply the skill across settings.

Generalization is the key. While the first goal is knowledge and understanding of the skill, the ultimate goals is to be able to use it. Generalization and transfer- described below is the holy grail. Perfection may not be possible, but using strategic teaching and generalization principles makes learning more likely.

Tips for Teaching and Generalization

Save this Document, and reference it in sessions!

This document is a list of Real life Executive Function uses that is a GREAT tool to have on hand during any online session. Save it, Print it out, Reference it whenever you need an example for a real life thinking skill scenario.

Tips for teaching transfer and generalization

1 Teach concepts that can be transferred-  Eg just because you learned the US capitals doesn’t mean you more readily learn the European capitals-not stuff that is local or inert

2. Motivate to transfer- it should be achievable, challenging, but possible

3.Start with near transfer, use “hugging” – doing things that resemble each other helps

4. Make sure initial learning is deep and mastered first- You need to know something in one setting before trying it in another

5. Create awareness of the value of transferring skills- MOTIVATE!

6. Make transfer explicit, discuss the value of the target- Awareness and value help

7. Model transfer, generate other examples of where transfer occurs- get kids to think about other places where they have applied learning across settings

8. Bridging techniques- use analogies  and describe other places for applying the same skills

9. Timing – teach transfer shortly after they have mastered the initial learning

10. Teach across settings  – multiple contexts and make the connections between initial learning and varied contexts explicit.

11. Strip the skill from the initial learning and re-apply it to another situation- contextualize , decontextualize, and recontextualize

12. Use prompts- can you think of something you are doing here that might help you there?

13. Teach them to prompt themselves to look for ways to transfer their learning from one setting to another

14.Use “what if “ scenarios” to prompt transfer

15. Coach for Metacognition

16. Homework- connect activities-  search for analogies, and other examples of and applications

17. Look for “Game Equivalents” where actions in the games have near and far transfer to real world activities

More to learn about generalization

Short article that describes training vs. learning

Article on using strategies, learning from mistakes to develop growth mindset and real learning (not generalization per se, but use of metacognition, sustained effort)