Powerful Learning Experience: Backgammon

(Photo by Andy Schultz, on Flickr)
In high school, my best friend Claire taught me how to play backgammon. I had never even seen a board before; she had grown up playing her grandparents, and was really good. Once she taught me the rules, we went ahead and stared playing, but she was crushing me with dispiriting regularity – I didn’t have a sense of strategy. Then we played the way she’d taught me, with one major change – after each of my moves, she took a moment to tell me what she would have done, had she been in my shoes at that second. I learned fast. I could tell that I was learning because of the increasing number of times that Claire said, “That’s pretty much what I would have done.” Eventually I even started winning now and then, at which point Claire stopped giving me hints.

For a while, even after that, I could still sometimes hear her voice in my head. In the end, my own experience built on those early games and her advice, and I became a backgammon player in my own right.

What made this a powerful learning experience? Here are some of the elements that seem like contributing factors:
  • a strong, warm connection to my teacher
  • learning was in a one-on-one setting
  • immediate feedback
  • tapped into my competitive drive
  • “only a game” = low stakes
  • lots of little mini-failures on the way to the big success
(I am working on several of these stories
of powerful personal learning
with an eye towards contributing
to Sam Chaltain’s Faces of Learning project.
You could, too.)
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Posted on May 8, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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