Review and Summary: The Learning Game

The Learning Game book cover

Ana Lorena Fábrega’s “The Learning Game” is like a treasure map for rethinking education. It’s not your typical school story. Instead, it talks about what we often just accept as ‘normal’ in our schools and asks some really big questions. Why do we learn the way we do? Are we helping our kids, the future inventors and explorers, reach their stars?

This book isn’t just about school stuff; it’s about our kids. Fábrega believes that we need to keep asking, “Are we doing the best for them?” She’s not just talking the talk; she left her teaching job to explore these ideas. And let me tell you, she’s onto something!

In the “Design Your Learning Game” section, she wraps it all up in a neat package. It’s like she’s handing you the keys to a new world of learning. I found myself nodding along, thinking, “Yep, I’ve been there too.” I played the learning game so well that I’m still feeling it as an adult.

Fábrega gets it. She puts into words what so many of us feel about the school system’s problems. She’s not just pointing out what’s wrong; she’s giving us real, doable ways to make things better for kids.

I found that this book isn’t just for parents or teachers. I personally learned a lot from it. It’s a life lesson in a book. It talks about stuff like knowing a little about a lot (that’s ‘range’), becoming an expert in something (‘specific knowledge’), and even when to call it quits.

This book is a must-read. It’s not just about raising smarter kids; it’s also about being wiser adults.

So, whether you’re a parent, teacher, or just someone who cares about learning, this book has something for you.


The Game of School

  • In the games of school, you succeed by pleasing your teachers, getting good grades, and advancing to the next grade. You win if you follow the rules of order, obedience, and compliance. But the games of school didn’t help the author learn. In fact, the author quickly realized school was more of an imitation of learning. If we want kids to really learn, they can’t be stuck in the game of school.

Dangerous Lessons Taught in Schools

  1. Confusion
    • The sequence of school curricula forces kids to learn each subject in isolation → don’t help kids build a coherent picture of how the real world works.
    • Solution: teach things in context by build relevant projects for solve real problems.
  2. Class Position
    • Kids are treated as if they all mature at the same rate and should all fit the same mold of the model student. Kids are encouraged to compete, seek status, and please adults, instead of learning together and collaborating.
    • Solution: encourage kids to collaborate → they would learn that true success comes from people working together. Students would have the space they need to discover what makes them unique and they’d be able to offer the best version of themselves to their peers and the rest of society.
  3. Indifference
    • School teach kids not to invest too much in any one topic. When a lesson, class period, or unit is finished, students are expected to stop studying that subject.
    • Solution: let kids follow their interest and empower them t o dig into subjects that excite them.
  4. Emotional Dependency
    • School teach kids to rely on teacher to tell them how they should feel.
    • Solution: encourage kids to embrace their own emotions. help them work through their feelings. kids can’t learn to regulate and manage their feelings—or build resilience—when they’re forced to mirror the emotions of someone else.
  5. Intellectual Dependency
    • School take away the chance for kids to think for themselves and develop their own perspectives.
    • Solution: more classrooms full of kids who practice divergent thinking and approach problems from new and unusual angels.
  6. Provisional Self-esteem
    • School teach kids that their worth comes from what a professional thinks of them. Teachers become the judges of a child’s worth, encouraged by strict school parameters to find flaw after flaw.
    • Solution: the goal of teaching should be to help students develop that internal standard and use it to make good decisions.
  7. Students Can’t Hide
    • Kids have no privacy, no personal space, and few rights
    • Solution: give kids a taste of adult freedom. As they grow up, shouldn’t they experience more and more opportunities to do things on their own. They need moments for privacy, chances to develop creative ideas, and a little bit of tray, fail, and try again.

The Problems with Standardizing Test

  1. Create poor learning environment
    • Kids spend much of the year in test prep instead of enagging in authentic learning experiences.
  2. Tests can compromise the mental health students
    • Test anxiety → affects performance and also reduces kids’ interest in learning, or taking on challenging tasks.
  3. Test do not reflect whether a kid will succeed in the real world
    • They measure a student’s test-taking ability.
    • the real world rewards people who know how to learn, solve problems, and perform, not people who are good at taking tests.
  4. Test incentivize corrupt institutions
    • Putting standardized testing on a pedestal creates bad incentives for all involved.


  • Broadening the methods by which we measure progress
  • Assessment should aim to give feedback to kids so they can improve. That means we need methods to evalute them that match their particular gifts and goals. Combining exams with portfolios could be a promising solution.

Extrinsic Motivators

Extrinsic motivators like rewards may help kids reach some short-term academic benchmarks or behavior goals, but they distract us from the ultimate goal of raising self-directed, lifelong-learners.

Problems with extrinsic motivators:

  • Rewards don’t work forever. Once the short-term benefit of a reward ends, the child’s motivation fades.
  • What are we teaching our children when we promise a reward to get them to do something? We’re telling them that they should crae about what they’ll get instead of enjoying the learning process.

How to Motivate Students Intrinsically?

  1. Give kids choices and make them feel accountable
    • Provides choices on what and how they learned.
  2. Involve kids when making decisions
    • Children who perceive they are in control are more likely to engage in their learning.
    • When we involve children in decisions, they begin to understand the reason behind our choices and are most likely to cooperate.
  3. Be specific with feedback and questions
    • Specific so that children know exactly what they are doing well. Don’t just say,”Good work!” Good work on what?
    • Similarly, resist using generic praises such as “Well done!” Try asking questions about their process instead. Be curious about how rather than praising the what. Examples:
      • How did you think to make that? What was your fav part?
      • Wow you scored a goal. How did you did that?
    • Recognize effort, not ability, and recognize ethics over achievement. Recognize the learning process, not the outcome. Recognize curiosity, perseverance, and a growth mindset over the completion of tasks.
  4. Have frequent “why” conversations
    • Kids stay engaged and enjoy the process whn they understand the why behind what we encourage them to do.
  5. Make fun a priority
    • Children who have fun learn more and behave better than those who don’t.
    • Instilling in children a love for learning is the most valuable gift we can give them.

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

Alvin Toffler

Five Lessons to Unlearn

  1. We need to help kids unlearn fearing mistakes
    • In school, kids lose points for mistakes. In the real world, mistakes are how we learn the most.
    • Relearn: getting comfortable with mistakes and learning from them.
  2. Kids need to unlearn fitting in
    • In school, students are rewarded for coloring inside the lines. In the real world, they’re rewarded for thinking outside the box.
    • Relearn: Breaking from the pack, finding what makes you different, and creating something legendary.
  3. They need to unlearn waiting for instructions
    • In school, we have to wait for instructions and do as we told. In the real world, we have to figure things out for ourselves.
    • Relearn: Trying → failing → learning → refining → repeating until you figure things out.
  4. Kids need to unlearn learning “just in case”
    • In school, we learn things just in case we need them later. In the real world, we learn specific things when the need arises.
    • In the real world, those who succeed are the ones who have mastered how to teach themselves. They’re prepared for any problem they might face, not because they’ve memorized all the answers just in case they ever need them, but because they know how to find answers when the need them.
    • Relearn: Learning “on demand”
  5. We need to help kids unlearn the fear of questioning authority
    • In school, students learn to not question authority. In the real world, we should question everything. Questioning things helps us develop opinions and come up with our own ideas. If we don’t ask questions, we get stuck with the status quo.
    • Relearn: It’s ok to question everything.

The Learning Style Myth

While the idea of learning styles sounds logical and appealing, a number of studies no call this theory into question.

The problems with learning styles:

  1. We don’t have one learning style
    • Visual, auditory, and motor input modalities in the brain are interconnected, and this interconnectedness is what helps us process information.
    • When we are learning, we engage more than one sense at a time.
  2. Tailoring instruction to various learning styles doesn’t improve learning outcomes.
    • Study found that:
      • Most students did not prepare in ways that seemed to reflect their learning style.
      • The few who did, didn’t do any better on their assessment.
  3. Learning styles encourage a fixed mindset
    • When we label or classify kids according to a learning style, we’re limiting them with self-fulfilling prophecies, despite our good intentions.

Range and Specific Knowledge

We live in a world with ambiguity and complexity. Today, the people who suceed the most know how to navigate constant change. They draw on a generalist background, which equips them to mix different approaches together to face new and unexpected challenges.

Read also: Range by David Epstein.

When kids specialize early, it’s easy for them to fall into “functional fixedness,” a narrow mindset where they only see things one way. They may miss creative solutions because they only ever mastered a single set of skills.
Early generalism gives kids a firm foundation of broad knowledge.

The Art of Failing and Quitting

While it’s true that the ability to preserve when something is difficult can be a competitive advantage, so can knowing when to quit.

Failure should be something we encourage, not punish. We have to try many different things that don’t work before we can find the things that do.

Quit early, quit often—not because it’s hard, but because it sucks

Prof. Deepak Malhotra

The best way to avoid catastrophic failure as an adult is to make lots of small failures as a kid.

Five Ways to Help Kids Fail Constructively

  1. Give kid lots of opportunities for small failures.
  2. Celebrate failures as opportunities to start again.
  3. Encourage the right kind of self-talk.
  4. Share your own failures with them
  5. Talk about heroes who used failure to succeed.

Avoid Asking “What Do You Want to be When You Grow Up?”

  1. It fosters the wrong kind of mindset by encouraging kids to dfine themselves in terms of a career and a single identity. The question suggests that they should have everything already figured out and discourages experimentation, trial and error, and failing and quitting.
  2. What if their ideal job hasn’t been invented yet? Help kids see that their future self doesn’t exist right now and that their interests may change over time.
  3. What if they want to do more than one thing? Bureau of Labor Statistics: the average person ends up holding a dozen of different jobs in their lifetime. Teach kids that they don’t have to do or be one thing. Explore a lot of different activities. It’s ok to rethink their chosen line off work and switch gears when necessary.

Author: Ana Lorena Fábrega

Publication date: 5 September 2023

Number of pages: 304 pages


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