How Pokemon Go can be a positive tool for learning

Games like Pokemon Go can be used to help students see the relevance of their education and keep them engaged and motivated.
Games like Pokemon Go can be used to help students see the relevance of their education and keep them engaged and motivated.PHOTO: REUTERS

Pokemon Go has already had more than 100 million downloads since it was launched last month.

Despite its popularity, it has received significant negative media attention, with reports of people falling off cliffs, crashing cars and trespassing. The game has even been attacked for turning players into anti-social zombies.

Yet there could be more positive aspects to the phenomenon if we look past its entertainment value and the moral panic some have attached to it. For instance, how could we potentially harness this app, and the technology associated with it, to support education?

Pokemon Go is not the first augmented reality (AR) app, but it is by far the most popular.

Unlike virtual reality, which replaces or simulates reality, AR takes reality and adds something to it. Bar codes, QR codes, Viewa - which allows readers to watch videos related to magazine content by scanning the page with their phones - and sound-recognition apps such as Shazam are all examples of AR that have been embraced by society.

In education, AR has already been employed to make otherwise difficult concepts, such as the structure of DNA or the inner workings of the heart, more accessible.

We know that effective teaching is more than just a teacher in front of a whiteboard disseminating information. Learning occurs through problem-solving, inquiry and by working with teachers and peers in a student-centred approach.

Experiential learning pedagogy advocates involving all the senses in hands-on, practical education, integrating aspects of more than one discipline in the task and ensuring that learning incorporates student interest as well as developing skills such as creativity, communication and digital competence.

All these factors help students see the relevance of their education and keep them engaged and motivated. Apps like Pokemon Go could be used to advance this agenda.


Game-based learning is another way popular digital games can be harnessed to teach 21st-century or enterprise skills in classrooms; even decisions about in-app purchases address financial literacy.

Minecraft, for example, is used in classrooms to teach concepts such as deforestation, sustainability, communication, problem-solving and teamwork.

Pokemon Go makes game-based learning even more accessible as it harnesses technology that the majority of people already have in their pockets. It is a pedometer, GPS, data collection and journalling tool, and requires maths skills to play. These features can be used to link the game with learning and curriculum.

Some potential curriculum links are:

•Photographing both real insects and virtual Pokemon and then writing up Pokedex entries for the insects that students have collected (science, media studies, ICT, English, art)

•Designing classification flowcharts for Pokemon as a lead-up to classification of animals (science, English, maths)

•Assigning students the job of PokeStop tour guide (Pokestops are often positioned in front of historical locations), requiring them to research and report on the history of the area (history, art, English)

•Framing maths problems around the data available for each Pokemon such as height, weight and strength. For example: Asha's house is 600m from school. The only time she plays Pokemon Go is as she walks to and from school every day. How many days will it take her to hatch a 5km egg?

Despite media reports to the contrary, there are many positive outcomes for Pokemon Go users. As a direct result of their involvement with the game, they are exercising and often engaging with others, discussing where to find rare Pokemon and coordinate lures.

While critics show photos of groups of people each staring at their own devices, anyone who has encountered a "Pokepatch" (a group of players standing around a PokeStop) will know that a lot of communication is taking place, with even "Pokedates" becoming a thing.

The general capability priorities such as critical and creative thinking, personal and social capability and, of course, information and communications technology, could also be taught using Pokemon Go as students manage their school and social lives, build relationships with others, work effectively in teams and make responsible decisions.

As this game is not played from behind closed doors, it even encourages conversations about personal safety. Discussions about the intersection between reality and the virtual world and digital etiquette are easy to imagine.

There are already apps such as Blippar that allow people to use phones to scan their environment. The app recognises objects (such as your shoe, a phone, the Eiffel Tower) and instantly finds webpages that can provide more information (such as where you can buy it, how it works or its history).

Add that to existing technology such as Google Glass and you can imagine a world where students visit the zoo on a school excursion and have been asked to research an animal of their choice for a class presentation.

As a student approaches the elephant enclosure, information about what she sees appears before her eyes. She looks at some carrots and data about how much food an elephant eats in a day appears. She turns her gaze to the elephant's tusks, and a video about poaching plays. As she pulls her focus out to see the whole elephant, an interactive hologram of the animal floats before her eyes, allowing the student to explore features such as the elephant's DNA or digestive system.

Content becomes immediate and relevant to students as they take charge of their own learning.

Apps, games and technologies such as Pokemon Go should be approached with an open mind as they offer many potential avenues to employ an engaging, student-centred approach to education.

•Amber McLeod is a lecturer in Education at Monash University. Kelly Carabott is an assistant lecturer in the Faculty of Education at Monash University.

•This article first appeared in The Conversation (, a website which carries analyses by academics and researchers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2016, with the headline 'How Pokemon Go can be a positive tool for learning'. Print Edition | Subscribe