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Oregon Trail and the true value of immersive gaming in the classroom

By Suzi Wilczynski
May 7th, 2015

Twenty-five years ago Oregon Trail changed the face of games in learning. One industry pro looks at lessons learned

immersive-gamingWalk into any bar and ask if someone remembers Oregon Trail. They’re bound to launch into a story about fording the river and losing all their supplies, how little Mary died of dysentery, or how their family’s wagon turned over on the journey. Oregon Trail defines an entire generation of adults. There’s a certain amount of childhood nostalgia that became visible in February as the 1990 version of the game became available to play for free, via the Internet Archive.

What is it about Oregon Trail that had such a profound impact on us that we clearly remember the experience years later?

Part of the answer lies in the way in which social studies is often taught. Despite the best efforts of teachers, history classes cover so much material that often the only choice is to focus on major events, dates, and important people. Not surprisingly, many kids find that sort of rote memorization boring and never truly engage with the material. That affects both comprehension and retention. Long after the test, students might remember the date of the Battle of Hastings, but the context and significance is often lost.

Oregon Trail stemmed from the realization that kids learn more when they are learning about real people doing real things. Deeper learning happens when teachers show life and culture. If history is taught in this way, students can learn to analyze, categorize, process and communicate, and evaluate the motivation behind an action.

Next page: What makes immersive gaming so impactful

[image via theNerdPatrol via Flickr]