Mind games at Sporcle and the future of education

A recent post by Friend of the Star Chamber Mike Onken over at the Industry! blog reminded me what a terrific resource Sporcle is. I’ve written about their excellent Name the Presidents game here before, but they’re on a roll now. They’ve got some kind of solid infrastructure that lets them churn out games lickety-split.

Their games do a good job of removing all the hassle from lightly-aided recall trivia games. The challenge is much greater than you’d get with multiple choice, but it’s also much more satisfying. Just type as fast as you can in one place and good things happen. I love these things. It’s an ideal way to learn your way around the countries of Africa, the names of various Greek gods, and as Mike discovered, the elements of the periodic table. Poke around the list of games and you’ll find, in addition to the things you’d like to know, some things that you already know disturbingly well. You might be alarmed, for example, at how many Simpson’s characters you can name. When you memorize the fact that Moe’s last name is Szylak, can it cause you to forget the capital of Burkina Faso is Ouagadougou?

I would go so far as to say that this is where education is headed: autodidactic social competitions. Strong on the social, light on the competition, and largely self-guided. Everybody likes to know how they’re doing compared to everyone else. I’m sure this site is driving a lot of serious learning.

UPDATE: How can I neglect to mention the Sporcle challenge to name all of the cheeses in the Monty Python cheese shop skit? That’s a lot of cheese. No no. Don’t tell me. I’m keen to guess…