I have seen the future of online education and it is PMOG

Where to start this post?

I could point you at my earlier presentation on “Augmenting OER with Client-side Tools” to orient you to the idea the browser itself offers one of the most powerful ways for users to both customize content on the fly and interact with each other.

I could tell you a story about seeing a reference to a browser-based multiplayer game, played (in my own words) “on top of and alongside of the web itself,” but then loosing that reference in my aggregator, only to have the niggle in the back of my brain eased when my query on twitter was successfully answered.

I could explain how, until recently, the web browser/web server model was kind of replicating earlier (boring) client-server models, treating web browsers often as dumb terminals. And how P2P challenged that in one (network) way. And how social software challenged that in another (that there were *people* at all those browsers). And how browser-based plugins are bringing both of those phenomena (albeit in a different way, technically) to the web experience.

I could point you at various pieces on “networked learning” which I think are all pointing to a new way of learning where the “online” part, the “network” isn’t just an afterthought, whose existence radically challenges what “to learn” and indeed “knowledge” even mean.

Or… you could just tell you to

  • install Firefox. I mean really. Install Firefox (though v2.x). Seriously, give me one reason why you haven’t already.
  • go to pmog.com. Get an account. Install the toolbar. And go on a mission.

Why? Because there you will see the (well not “THE” because hopefully there will always be many) future. In brief, once you’ve got that installed, you are in the game. Suddenly, you will notice small windows appearing when you look at web pages, windows urging you to “take this mission” or instead alerting you to dangers or treasures placed by other players. Where is the game taking place? Well, there is a site, and a codex (which is kind of essential reading to get the real flavour of the game). But the game takes place “on top of and alongside of the web itself,” as a PASSIVELY multiplayer online game, meaning it comes to you as part of your regular experience on the web.

So immediately I can see people blanching at the idea of their students being called “shoats” or “bedouins” and coming up with all sorts of FUD on why PMOG.com can’t be used as a platform for education. I am not suggesting that PMOG.com itself is the platform to rush out and adopt (though indeed, why not? Take a mission yourself – can you see any potential for leading people through a learning path, placing obstacles in their way that they must overcome and building a rewards system into these goals? Sound familiar?)

Indeed, the first (easily implementable) idea that popped into my head was to go back to Trailfire and start constructing trails with pieces left out, so that to continue on the trail, you needed to answer a question or figure out a problem that would result in a URL where a new annotation would leave to the next site. But more on that later.

The web has always had this potential – what are hyperlinks (and Google thinks this way) other than people providing context on whatever they are linking to, and through that, paths.What’s new is that all of this context (and all of the people) can be brought back to the very thing being described, in place, enriching the experience, and in the example of PMOG, tied together with a narrative thrust.

Finally, if I was really good, this post wouldn’t be a post. It would be a PMOG mission. And maybe it will be… – SWL

12 thoughts on “I have seen the future of online education and it is PMOG”

  1. It might not be for everyone. There’s been some interesting research on the motivations of people who play online games. Pmog might not interest folks who aren’t “achievers” or “explorers.”

  2. Corrie, so I was trying to make a larger point about this approach of “passively multiplayer online games” and their applicability for teaching/learning apart from the pmog.com site specifically. But I am interested to hear more about your point. Have you tried pmog.com itself? There seems to be room for the other “Bartle” types as well in this game, and presumably outside of the specifics of pmog.com we can also come up with other reward and game play scenarios that extend past those 4 types. Or is the assertion that those really are the only motivations for game play, and that if you don’t fall into these then online games won’t suit you as a learner?

    I confess I am by no means either an expert on gaming or using games for learner; what excites me about pmog and its ilk is that they work *on top* of *any* web content, so instead of building complicated silo’d apps and then trying to recreate interesting learning content or experiences in them, we can potentially use these engines for constructing interesting experiences on top of the existing web.

  3. I think you have a good idea here, Scott. A learning oriented version of something like PMOG where people explore the web in exciting new ways makes me think of geocaching. I wonder how we could leverage that experience? Make exploring the web in a class an “easter egg” hunt in the game/software sort of sense.

  4. I saw your tweet on this the other day Scott and had a look. Haven’t had time to play yet, but you are right about its potential. If it can be structured right you can enhance that small reward motivation that keeps people gaming for hours with genuine learning experience. And the key is _without_ having to develop expensive games. I can see how socialearn might turn out this way for instance.
    If you’re after volunteers for a play, count me in, it’s the only way I’ll get around to it.

  5. Minh, in the case of the PMOG.com game itself, you are right, it does rely on, if not a “war” metaphor, certainly ones of fighting and battles. There is no reason “passivley online multiplayer games” must, though. This is, I think, precisely the interesting opportunity PMOGs represent – to come up with a game play metaphor that is maybe not just the same old “ubiquitous war metaphor” but that it still compelling (ultimately, I think, the reason for being interested in “games” as a mechanism for education). And, I would add, one that functions on the right level – the big mistake would again be to try and do this on a per class/per semester basis without realizing how those artificial constraints of “class” and “semester” drastically impact the narrative efficacy of things like this.

  6. I intend to use pmog with my online students, to teach research skills. ‘Battle’, ‘war’, not necessary metaphors for what I’m doing – though I do leave mines on sites I really don’t want my students to use.

    First attempt at a mission to that effect, with a small puzzle in it, the successful completion of which demonstrates that the student gets what I’m after (consider this a prototype):

  7. Shawn, AWESOME! Go for it, that is great. I look forward to hearing more about your experiences with it on your blog (that I have now subscribed too).

    You might also be interested in checking out http://pmog.com/missions/potpourri_puzzle_strain_your_brain_and_win_a_prize – got this through a reference on twitter from mapetite. It is set up so that players have to solve a small riddle to figure out the next URL in the mission, they are not simply just linked together. And I really like the idea of placing mines on sites you are specifically trying to discourage (try putting a few onfacebook ;-). Really interested to hear what the students think and if it catches their attention. “Bravo” for trying this experiment.

  8. I also wanted to add another note to this post so as to be honest about my experiences so far with PMOG. As of mid-April, I pretty much have the PMOG extension turned off. My experience is that if I leave it on, it becomes unresponsive within about 20 minutes and also turns my browser into total sludge. To be fair, I typically have 3-4 Firefox windows open with 5-10 tabs in each. I can see how this might be challenging. I think I may also be experiencing some conflicts with other extensions (I am especialy suspisicous of a conflict with Trailfire as they use similar mechanisms).

    I do not mean to damn PMOG with these comments. I stand behind everything I wrote. I think PMOG (and the broader phenomenon of these passive multiplayer online games) represent a hugely interesting way to look at education online, and not just (or especially not just) in formal education. But as with many things I look at, it seems to me to be pushing the boundaries and perhaps a bit technologically challenged. I know that others have had better luck so far, which may well depend on their local browser setup. For me it has been frustrating, to see something with so much tantalizing potential, but not be able to use it because it really has made the rest of web experience a slow, unusable one.

  9. This is really neat! I have never heard of it before, but I’ll have to check it out soon. I like what Shawn suggested – using it as a tool to teach his online college students. Seems like a cool way to integrate education into the everyday web experience.

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