10 Ways Pokémon Go Augments Real-World Education & Student Learning

Source: Pokemon Go iTunes

In just ten days, the cultural sensation of Pokémon Go has attracted over 20 million players. It is the most popular U.S. mobile game ever, surpassing Twitter in daily active users and crashing its Niantic host server.

For those who are over the age of 30, or who have been been in a self-imposed digital blackout, or who did not luck into an 11-year-old at a Sunday BBQ to explain the intricacies, here is a one-sentence description of Pokémon Go: the goal is to explore one's neighborhood, using virtual GPS map data, to catch as many animated creatures as possible, building up their strength to defeat other players in head-to-head duels. For a more complete (and accurate) rundown, here is a better explanation, as well as a helpful video.

Source: Pokemon Go

With little marketing or publicity, the enormous success of Pokémon Go speaks to an obvious and inherent appeal. The game combines popular culture, virtual reality, physical movement, problem-solving, and person-to-person competition. Teachers, for their part, are breathing a sigh of relief that this app debuted in July, so children (and adults) can spend the summer getting it out of their systems. But educators also appreciate the many learning opportunities that exist within the Pokémon Go app.

As with all sudden fads, a host of important caveats have emerged this past week, including safeguarding private information, respecting hallowed locations, and ensuring personal safety. Also, as with most fads, this one game will not revolutionize education. That being said, here are 10 ways that Pokémon Go can support the skills of contemporary learning:
  1. Visual Literacy - The essential premise of the game is to interpret a virtual world. Users must recognize symbols and signifiers, which are the building blocks of visual literacy. Students must decode the augmented reality (AR) by "reading" images and internalizing pictorial stimuli. This fundamental skill is known as graphicacy.

  2. Map Decoding - The only way to succeed in the game is by following a colorful map, which by definition necessitates a proficiency with direction, navigation, and geography. Much like the geocaching craze, Pokémon Go draws from the Google Maps API to turn everyday sites into Gyms and Stops.

  3. Problem Solving - This Poké-distraction employs the best of gamification. It requires critical thinking, advanced planning, strategic puzzling, and dealing with uncertainty to keep all of the animated balls in the air.

  4. STEM & Big Data - Educators have been wrestling with the world of Big Data for years. Here, the foundation resides in math and numbers; how much combat power does each creature have, how much candy and/or stardust is on hand, and how long until an incubation period ends?

  5. Collaborative Learning - The app offers a mild distraction for a single user, but the expanded components come alive when a player engages with other combatants. In face-offs and in personal conversations at community sites, the game subtly draws students into cooperative play.

  6. Financial Literacy - Perhaps one of the most under-heralded benefits of the game is the tutelage in budgeting, saving, and allocation of resources. Players accumulate Poké Coins and consider micro-transactions, as they earmark incense, lures, and other commodities. The game is already hitting the FinTech world by storm.

  7. Physical Education - It's no secret that Pokémon Go promotes activity to walk and engage. Users must progress a certain number of kilometers before they can hatch an incubated egg. The app relies on the phone's sensors to distinguish between physical and automobile movement.

  8. Social Media In The Classroom - This app furthers the benefits of social media in learning. It encourages the emerging discipline of the Digital Humanities, as it also promotes crowdsourcing, sharing, teaming, and student avatars.

  9. History & Civics - A blessing of the game is that most Poké Stops are local landmarks. The designers have placed an emphasis on points of historical interest. In order to move up in the challenge, users must acknowledge the civic value of nearby, consequential events.

  10. Language & Lexicons - The superimposition of an animated Pikachu atop a real-world venue inspires countless prompts for creative writing. Also, the Pokémon creature world embodies an encyclopedia of names, abilities, and vocabulary that together accomplishes what all good reading does: it builds a facility with language and meaning.
Full disclosure: we are Pokémon novices, and for years we have never understood what our seventh graders were talking about at the lunch table. But admittedly, we are excited by the potential. For other ideas about apps and augmented reality in learning, check out: