tenletter

Understanding player learning styles when teaching/learning a new game

Posted in deep & philosophical, rpg by Jerall on 27 September 2011

I love to experiment with new stuff: new rules and systems, new campaigns, new settings. Unfortunately, only a few members of my extended play circles have the same love for experimenting with the new. Often, I need to do the bulk of the work (and the purchasing of product) when trying to introduce a new game to the group, which is only fair. Naturally, I’ve experienced a good number of both successful and failed attempts over the years. I have even taken the time to occasionally blog about those experiences (for example: here and here). Similar discussions and collections of tips can be found all over the Internet, but a recent post, by Michael Wolf, triggered a new line of thought.

In the past, I’ve tried to customise my games to suit my play group (especially new games). I’ve used all manner of player classifications to help plan those games, including the RPG classics, such as power gamer or rules lawyer, to Magic: the Gathering’s Johnny-Spike-Timmy and even Myers-Briggs personality types. I’ve been looking into learning styles, as part of my day job, of late. Unsurprisingly, my first thoughts on the subject involved using my new knowledge to win more games of poker. Those were swiftly replaced by the idea of using learning styles to introduce a new game to old (and new) players.

My research into learning styles is still at a rather immature stage, but the potential to use them to create positive first-time experiences with role playing games has me quite interested. A learning style is one approach to learning an individual may follow. It is believed that individuals respond (learn) differently based on the approach employed. Many accept that an individual may even have a preferred learning style – the style to which the individual best responds. Cassidy (PDF) (2004) has a rather nice way of explaining it:

“There is general acceptance that the manner in which individuals choose to or are inclined to approach a learning situation has an impact on performance and achievement of learning outcomes.”

For the purpose of my own little experiment, I shall be using Honey and Mumford’s model. Despite its criticisms, it is the model most readily available to me, and, based on the scope of my experiment, should be more than sufficient. According to Honey and Mumford, learning occurs as a continuous, interactive process along a four-stage learning cycle:

  1. Having an experience
  2. Reviewing the experience
  3. Concluding from the experience
  4. Planning the next steps

An individual may show a preference for any one of the stages (this preference may change at will or based on circumstance). Learning styles were assigned to the stages:

  1. Having an experience – Activist
  2. Reviewing the experience – Reflector
  3. Concluding from the experience – Theorist
  4. Planning the next steps – Pragmatist

Honey and Mumford developed a Learning Style Questionnaire – a self-assessment tool meant to help determine an individual’s learning style. At the time of writing this, I couldn’t locate a freely available online version to share (if you know of one, or even a good alternative, leave a link in the comments.). In any event, I am apparently a Reflector, primarily, with strong Theorist tendencies.

When looking at my gaming habits, I find that I tend to dive into a new game and try it out for a short time. While playing the new game, I tend to (over) analyse every move and turn until I reach a point when I decide to stop playing, reset everything, conduct a miniature after action review and then start from the beginning again. After restarting the game, I tend to have more fun with the game – I know how things work now and play more efficiently and effectively because of it. I see this habit most clearly in my video gaming, especially in longer games or games that involve tech trees or character growth (the Mass Effect Series, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, as examples). I play for a couple of hours, learn how the system works, how best to grow my character. Then, I reset the game and start from the beginning again.

I still have to think on how to take this idea to my group and thereafter figure out how to apply it. I’ve had my eye on the Dragon Age RPG for awhile now. Nobody in my group has tried the AGE system yet, so I’m interested to see the system in action and see how tailoring the quick start to my players’ learning styles would work.

- Jerall

EDIT: I managed to find an online example of the learning style questionnaire.

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