There has been some buzz in the media (here and here for example) about a new school that opened this year in New York City called the Quest to Learn (Q2L) school—the curriculum of which is based entirely on learning through (mostly video) games.

The idea that students could learn through playing video games is not new. As we’ve written in Disrupting Class and on this blog, many have written and researched about this—from Marc Prensky to James Paul Gee most notably. As we’ve discussed, Florida Virtual School pioneered a revolutionary fully online video-game based American History course, Conspiracy Code, earlier this year, under the idea that it should be working to make the work itself in education more engaging.

The research behind Q2L is in fact inspired in part by Gee’s research, according to the Economist. And the school itself appears to be the brainchild of Katie Salen, a games designer and a professor of design and technology at Parsons The New School for Design in New York.

What is new about the school—which started with 12-year-olds this year and will keep the students until they are 18—is two-fold. First, the whole curriculum is based on games. Second, the curriculum is dramatically different from that of the traditional one with the familiar English, Social Studies, Math, and so on. According to the Economist: “Quest to Learn’s school day will, rather, be divided into four 90-minute blocks devoted to the study of ‘domains’. Such domains include Codeworlds (a combination of mathematics and English), Being, Space and Place (English and social studies), The Way Things Work (maths and science) and Sports for the Mind (game design and digital literacy). Each domain concludes with a two-week examination called a ‘Boss Level’—a common phrase in video-game parlance.” Because the school is public, its students will still have to take the normal subject-matter tests.

Now it’s true that we wouldn’t call Q2L a disruptive innovation (although perhaps some of its components may prove to be just that). It is also true that this dramatic re-envisioning of the fundamental architecture of a school reveals the power of utilizing heavyweight teams (which we wrote about in Chapter 9 of Disrupting Class) when rethinking the architecture—what components are needed, how they fit together—of a product or service is the goal. This use of games—that fundamentally rethinks schooling—could likely only come about in a new school like Q2L. As the Economist concludes,  “In education, as in other fields of activity, it is not enough just to apply new technologies to existing processes—for maximum effect you have to apply them in new and imaginative ways.”

– Michael B. Horn


  • Michael B. Horn
    Michael B. Horn

    Michael B. Horn is Co-Founder, Distinguished Fellow, and Chairman at the Christensen Institute.