It’s Better To Learn In The Real World

From my Healthy Living column in Moncton’s Times & Transcript.

Pets, especially active dogs that require long walks, provide owners with motivation for increasing time spent exercising. But do virtual pets do the same? Some people seem to think so.

Trainer, an online game designed to teach children about exercise and nutrition by having them complete exercise challenges and make food choices alongside a virtual pet, won first place in the games category of the Apps for Healthy Kids 2010 contest held in the US as part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Campaign.

Other winning applications include Break Pal (that shows you how to perform mini workouts at your desk), Energy Balance (that shows you how much exercise is needed to ”burn off”’ popular foods), How Wheat Works (that shows you what happens to wheat before it ends up on your plate), and Food Buster (that teaches you the nutritional composition of common foods).

It’s ironic that a contest developped to encourage healthy habits simultaneously encourages screen time. While I can see how some of the applications from the Apps for Healthy Kids contest would be useful to educators who are looking for didactic materials to use in health classes for younger children, I hesitate to believe that online applications that encourage healthy habits are a legitimate source of motivation.

Is our generation wired to the point that we’re more influenced by a flashing screen than by the people around us? I think not. Sometimes the virtual world can solve real world problems; other times it just beats around the bush. I think this is one of those situations.

Perhaps adults need to realize that younger people are human and can’t be effectively taught by a computer. Real life adult role models are needed.


Originally published in the Times & Transcript on October 23rd, 2010.


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