Deep learning vs. knowledge acquisition – why games shouldn’t be expected to teach complete understanding

Expert disagree on what games are really good for in education – and how to measure their effects. Many believe that games are good for getting players a taste of a subject, others that games are nice little tools for skill-and-drill repetition, and yet others that games are in a unique position to grant a […]

Game-based sex education – from neuroscientific memory-models to a colourful card game

Some years ago, I decided to apply for funding for a learning-game project with my good friends the stand-up commedian Mads L. Brynnum and his collaborator the sex-educator Nanna Quvang. What came out of it was the card game “LoveSick”, which has received a lot of positive attention in the media – now also on the international site

Mads and Nanna already toured Denmark with “Mads and Nanna’s sex-show” a mix between stand up comedy and sex education they devised together, because sex education can be a very difficult subject. On one hand, it will inadvertently lead go giggles – on the other it should be taken seriously. Mads and Nanna decided to marry rhe fun

using the giggles in sex education, instead of letting them become an obstacle

aspects with education, and try to play on the strengths of humor instead of letting it become an obstacle.When the idea of a game came up, I hadn’t yet received word on my ph.d.-funding, but I had a lot of the theories in place: There are huge differences between the memory systems that kick in when we remember an autobiographical episode and when we gulp down factual knowledge like historical dates or rehearse procedural skills like long division. The latter two come without source memory, while the previous one is a mix between factual information and perceptual and emotional mental time-travels. Introspection reveals that there are many passages and interplays between the differnet memory “systems”, and neuroscience shows us that they should be understood as dynamic processes which ongoingly recruit and overlap with a seriesof shared cortical areas, which may also be in use for entirely different things.

an article by Thomas Vigild in

The long and the short of my theory being, that unique experiences may act as “autobiographical anchors” which allow us to subjectively recall a particular learning event, and from there “dig out” the semantic information and procedural sequences that we like to test in schools.

Further, abstract concepts seem much harder to learn and understand than concrete things and processes which you can interact with in multiple perceptual modalities. I therefore suggested, that adding an “autobiographical hook” together with multimodal stimuli present in the game might supply a breeding ground for understanding sexually transmitted disease – after all, most of us luckily don’t have any experience of “clamydia” or “condylomes” and the photos usually used just look gross and nasty and convey little variability to the grossed-out onlooker. The idea we put into LoveSick is that we don’t expect kids to learn everything there is to know from a simple card-game. But done tight, usinc processual experience coupled with fyn stylized images by Sigurd Rubech, it might create the foundation for each student’s ongoing future construction of a conceptual  understanding for STDs in general, and symptoms in particular.

The game has been available in denmark for a few months, but the first international press-story just came out at

LoveSick was sponsored by the Danish Ministry of Education, and is available for free to schools and individuals. It can be acquired in some game-stores and sexed-shops, as well as on the net if you want to pay the postage.

I hope to get a quiz up and running on the website soon, to gather a little bit of data on how kids experience and remember the game. Who knows? If the data’s good, there might be a real research-paper hidden in this little project.

We got in many of the large Danish newspapers with this one. I wonder if there would be an international market, or if this is simply too… well.. Danish?

LoveSick is only available in Danish so far, but we have been airing the idea of getting an international edition out. Get in touch, if you know of funding bodies in your country, that might be interested. We don’t know if the carefree graphic nature of the game is too much for some countries (it is very Danish), but I’m sure it can be modified to fit with local standards.

Dilemmas with Deep Learning in games

My research in educational mobile games has taken some odd twists and turns. Originally I envisioned doing an fMRI-experiment to gauge if recall of learning from unique game-experiences recruited cortical areas differently than from material learned with normal book-to-brain teaching. But instead I have been getting to know two concrete on-location games very well. Since […]

Neuroscience in education, marketing and beyond – come join the discussion at Aarhus

While the 90’s were declared the decade of the brain by American Congress, the 00’s were the years when both scientists and the general public rode the momentum to generate an unsurpassed flurry interest and interesting findings.  The 10’s, then, appears to be going in at least two directions, becoming both the decade of “neuroscepticism” and the decade where the neuroscientific toolbox has truly been opened to those engaged in practical fields like education, game-design and market-analysis. Technologies like eeg have become more cost-efficient, more cross-disciplinary “new neurodisciplines” have been embraced, and the market for good authoritative answers from the frontier of brain-science has attracted a host of authors, consultants and peddlers of services – good and bad.

Since I gained my academic wings in the 00’s, I probably imagined that I would be supplying those fast authoritative answers on important fields  like gaming, motivation and learning. Now, I not only find a need to defend my field from militant scepticism, but also to thread a careful path balancing between enthusiasm, scientific method and doing things that are actually useful to practitioners, without succumbing to simplification. I saw those important looming challenges in Howard-Jones’ “Introducing Neuroeducational Research” as well as seminal critical publications like Vul and colleague’s analysis of the puzzling high statistical correlations in studies of personality, emotion and social cognition in the scanner, and the tongue in cheek fMRIs of dead salmon by Bennett et al at Dartmouth. 

Since we want to keep on doing good neuroscience and facilitate use of out knowledge in the real world, I have set up a workshop at MindLab and teh Dept. of Psychology and Behavioural sciences in Aarhus this month. If you want to join, please let me know. You can read my teaser for the event below.

Come join in the fun at Aarhus 31. May

Popular science is always a good place to glean where a field is heading – and what the public wants from it!

Followers of Wired Science will be aware, that neuroscientific theories and methods have caught the public eye with studies of “big” phenomena like ethicsreligion andcuriosity. And where the popular eye and available technology go, commercialization and practical applications are never far behind. Methodologies from the neuroscience-labs are even now being peddled in areas like cinemamarketingsoftware engineering,  teaching  and “brain training”. MRI-evidence has even had its day in court!

Are we ready for this?

At the Neuroscience in education, marketing and beyond workshop, we address the exiting implications of moving from the lab and into real fields of practice, as we see it in “the new neuro-disciplines”. But what is the role of universities in this? Is the science ready? Should we jump in or be weary? How can scientists share their cool tools with commercial partners? What is on the horizon for applied neuroscience?We hope to find out.

Tentatively, the program will include talks, networking and workshop-opportunities on neuroscience in educationneuromarketing, and the commercial/public eyewith eminent researchers Paul Howard-Jones (University of Bristol), Thereas Schillhab (Danish School of Education) and Uffe Schjødt  (Mindlab/religion, Aarhus University) and Andreas Lieberoth (MindLab/psychology, Aarhus University).The seminar is open to researchers and students from all fields.
Cross-disciplinarity is our strength!
Registration for non-MINDLab researchers is required.

The MINDLab Interacting Minds project is pleased to welcome Dr. Paul Howard-Jones, Senior Lecturer in Education and the University of Bristol, and author of the groundbreaking Introducing Neuroeducational Research. Dr. Howard-Jones is notable for bridging the gabs between cognitive neuroscience and educational practice with a keen “hybrid professional” eye and great respect for practitioners’ work and expectations.


My good friend and game-design colleague from “Camp Roskilde” Morten Greis Petersen, just coined the phrase�Roleplayingfication.   In his new blog, he will examine the more or less serious use of role-play and turning things into play, just like so many have focused on more “hard” game mechanics in “gamification”.   Check it out, if […]

Define “gamification”…

Gamification is one of those (buzz)words that everyone on the internet seems to know, but it is hard to define.

To me, it usually means “adding game mechanics to non-game contexts.”

I had the pleasure of briefly discussing gaming and gamification with Ed Deci, the (co-)father of Self Determination Theory. To him, gamification was just using games for serious purposes – what I usually think of as “applied games”. But Deci isn’t the one actually working on it at his lab – his collaborator at The University of Rochester Rich Ryan is – so he admitted to limited interest and understanding.

So I asked Ryan. He agreed that the word gamification has been stretched recently and is often vaguely applied. He did, however, suggests that we need to look beyond the transfer of “raw” mechanics in themselves, to include some of the motivational structures common in games but not elsewhere to increase engagement in non-game contexts. All this is right there in  Rigby & Ryan’s new book “Glued to Games” which I just received in the post.  “For instance”, Ryan wrote to me: “we discuss using a leveling up feedback structure instead of grades as a gamification device in a standard high school math sequence.”

Another example (which I also mentioned in my discussion of Sheldon’s “The Multiplayer Classroom”) is using the-quest-structures known from video-games outside of that context. Ryan and I seem to see eye to eye on this, since for purposes of being systematic, I find it useful to define gamification as:

uses of game-mechanics (such as points, progress, sub-challenges, more or less explicit rules, and free-choice “quests”) in practices and settings (e.g. consumption, training, participation in online co-creation) that are explicitly not framed as games.

The latter may seem trivial, but I suspect that the framing of something as a game has a huge impact on the way people go about it, and the way they e.g. interact with other participants; for instance, rules and status-functions might become an explicit issue in the way you and me collaborate or (indeed) compete on a task. You can see my (forthcoming) experiment on that small issue in another post.