Since 2009, Minecraft has conquered the video gaming world to become one of the most recognisable brands on the planet – a title cemented by a vast array of merchandising, numerous upgrades, and Microsoft’s own buying out of parent company, Mojang, for $2.5bn. This success, coupled with the game’s addictive concept, meant it was only a matter of time before other parties paid attention.
Games like Minecraft can improve learning, motor skills, and creativity. Minecraft is in essence a digital version of classic block building, where players create interesting new environments and then go on adventures with the things they build.
Minecraft’s role in the educational sector began almost immediately after its launch, when creative teachers realised that they could use the game to explain physics concepts, like gravity, or teach students about historic sites and coding. Brian Painter (one such educator using Minecraft to teach programming) put the success of using the video game to teach down to increased engagement and familiarity: “Minecraft is familiar for kids and gives them a comfort level that isn’t there otherwise”. A high demand from teachers for a build specifically designed towards the classroom led Mojang to release MinecraftEDU in 2016.
Craft Your Future
With all the success in teaching programming, explaining quantum computing, and introducing city planning, it was only a matter of time before Minecraft was applied to the construction industry. Currently, construction firms are witnessing a widening skills gap, due in part to the aftermath of the recession, when contracted workers were prevalent, and partially because between 2018 and 2023 an estimated 400,000 skilled workers will retire. The skills gap has seen a drop in productivity and confidence within the industry, and finding a solution has become vital.
In an effort to inspire 12-14 year olds, the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) has launched Craft Your Future – a programme using the MinecraftEDU spin-off to teach children how to respond to common construction challenges within the fictional city of Newtown. Deputy Chief Executive of CIOB, Bridget Barlett, hopes the initiative will “help reveal why the industry is important and why a career in construction is so important”.
And it isn’t just classrooms taking advantage of Minecraft’s capacity for teaching construction skills. According to Construction Enquirer, clients and contractors are doing the same in order to win over young minds.
How Effective is Minecraft?
One of Minecraft’s strongest points is the familiarity and accessibility it provides to children, making for a more engaging learning experience. But in return, there are limitations to what Minecraft can teach.
In the game, gravity is no issue, and as such complex ideas about supporting structures cannot be effectively conveyed. Meanwhile, away from issues with realism, other critics – such as Education Futures’ John Moravec, Ph.D. – note that “when forced upon students by schools, technologies that encourage play rapidly lose their appeal”.
These limitations however, pale in comparison to the benefits Minecraft has for children’s construction-based skills (and much more). People learn in a variety of ways, and providing Minecraft as an alternative to traditional teaching is providing children the chance to interact and get their hands dirty – all without ever setting foot on a real building site. Supporting Minecraft for this reason, Brian Painter noted in his programming class that “[Minecraft] allows the students to visualise what is happening with the program, and allows their creativity on what to do next to take off” making for a richer educational experience and greater success.
Although Minecraft in the classroom has some opposition, it’s clear that CIOB and the majority of the construction industry are ready to try it in order to close the skills gap and bring fresh blood into construction firms. We’ll have to wait and see how Minecraft affects young people’s motivation to develop a career in construction, but in the meantime we can be glad that the industry are approaching the challenge from a number of creative and intriguing angles. In classrooms up and down the country, the next generation of construction excellence is starting right now.