In an effective learning environment, learners are task-oriented, which means that they are more focused on completing a task successfully than on the risk of failure or how they may be perceived by the people around them. Being task-oriented can lead to the flow state, where the learner is completely immersed in and energized by the task itself, losing track of time and any sense of self-consciousness.

Petri Dish is designed to encourage the members of a learning community to develop a task-orientation by:

  1. meeting the needs of all players;
  2. making learning explicit; and
  3. enabling all players to view each other as peers.

Meeting the Needs of All Players

The problems and challenges posed within Petri Dish scale rapidly. At the same time, every problem is grounded in the same core set of local mechanisms that players can understand intuitively. This enables each player to find a zone of proximal development within the game itself where the level of challenge and support matches what they need as learners. This, in turn, diminishes their need to compete for learning resources and fosters cooperation instead.

Making Learning Explicit

All players are going to reach a point in the game where they get stuck and need to work at a solution. When this happens, they are going to have to apply what they know, build and test hypotheses, drill down to the molecular scale, and ground everything in local mechanisms to analyze what is happening and deepen their understanding of the cell’s systems and behavior. If this is made transparent, then it demystifies the entire learning process and makes it explicit. No one just gets it with zero effort. Everyone is going through the exact same thing just at different points in the game. Learning becomes the business of the community and everyone engages in it.

Viewing Each Other as Peers

But the real magic happens when players discuss the problems they are working on or share their solutions. Because every problem and solution in Petri Dish is grounded in the same core set of local mechanisms that a player can understand intuitively and everyone is immersed in these local mechanisms early on, everyone in the community can follow the explanation of a problem or a solution no matter where they are in the game themselves. This is crucial because it means that no one feels like they are being left behind. You may not be able to reach a solution yourself, but when someone walks you through it, you can follow each individual step and see how they got there, you can visualize getting there yourself some day, and you can make valuable contributions to the discussion.

Once everyone is getting what they need, everyone is focused on the business of the community which is learning, and everyone has the same foundation of understanding and is capable of contributing ideas and solutions, then people can relax and focus on the task at hand. There is obviously a lot more to the development of an effective learning community, but Petri Dish is certainly ready to play its part.