Why can’t online education be as engaging as Fortnite?

In prior post,  asserted that near-term, more online education is inevitable … and, in another post, we reported a WSJ study that  The Results Are In for Remote Learning: It Didn’t Work.

The headline point of the WSJ study:

Preliminary research suggests students nationwide will return to school in the fall with roughly 70% of learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year, and less than 50% in math.

We concluded:

The playing field changed: Teachers are no longer just “competing” against other teachers and subjects for students’ interest … now, they are directly competing against Fortnite and Tik Tok.

That’s not a fair fight…

A couple of loyal readers asked a reasonable question: “Fortnite? What the heck are you talking about?”


During the past couple of months, I had a unique opportunity: occasionally kid-sitting a 1st grader and a 5th grader during the Covid school shut-down.

So, I had a glimpse into the effectiveness of their online virtual classes …  and, I got to see how they spent their time with schools and sports locked down.


The experience was eye-opening…


First, I was impressed that their teachers were taking the abrupt switch to online classes very seriously. When they Zoomed in, they were prepared and trying their level best to work the technology and keep students engaged.

That said, when the sessions ended, the kids didn’t immediately grab a book to read or word problems to solve.


They couldn’t run fast enough to get back to their PS4 and start playing Fortnite.

Fortnite is a survival game where 100 players fight against each other in player versus player combat to be the last one standing. It is a fast-paced, action-packed game, where strategic thinking is a must in order to survive.

When they weren’t playing the game, they were usually watching YouTube videos that replayed games that some of the “masters” had played … and that offered tips on how they might up their game.

I was struck by the contrast between their online education and their online Fortnite battles.

For the record, these are two of my grandkids … and both are good students — as indicated by their standardized test scores and consistently glowing report cards.

So, I asked them: “Why are you so hooked on Fortnite?

Combining their input with some online digging, here’s what I concluded:

Easy access

The basic game is free, playable on any platform (iPad, PC, cell phone) and very user-friendly.  Just logon and start playing.  No complicated technology, no convoluted protocols or rules.

Competitive juices

Out of the 100 players, only one is the last one standing — the winner.  It’s like Marathon-running. Nobody expects to actually win the game or race), but they do aim for personal bests: vaporizing more opponents than in prior games or lasting longer before getting vaporized.


The game can be played solo or as part of a squad. Most play in squads.  Squad members communicate secretly during the gaming — strategizing and sharing tips.  The squad wins or loses as a team,


Especially when locked away from school friends and sports teammates, the game provides social contact.  Players are able to chat with their friends about the game … or about life.


While the basic game is free, players are able to purchase “skins” that give their on-screen characters a unique personality. The skins aren’t competitively useful, but they make the game more personal.


The formula is pretty basic .. and, it works.

Kids can’t wait to play, to watch the “how to” videos and move up the rankings.

Gee, if only that magic could be captured by, say, math.

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