5 Ways in Which Disney World Can Impact the Future of Learning

As a connected educator, I think it is near impossible for me to do things and go places in this world without at the same time thinking about how these things might relate to my professional practice. This is exactly what happened to me on a recent trip to Walt Disney World.  As many people so often are, (including Dr. Tony Sinanis as presented in a recent post of his), I was inspired by this trip and said to my son several times:

Why can't school be more like Disney World?

School like Disney World?  To both my son and I, that at first seemed like something possible only in a dream.  After an entire week in the parks though, we both realized that school can actually be more like Disney World and it might be easier than we think.  I have outlined 5 ways in which I feel Disney World can impact the future of learning.

1. Immersion

Back in 2013, in an article for the Journal of Media Literacy Education, I touched upon the idea of digitally-induced synesthesia. In that article, I was referring to the experience of reading the digital story, Inanimate Alice and how the experience of reading that story, assails all the senses, immersing the reader in the story.  Disney World does not lack in their offering of immersive experiences that have a similar effect. One of these experiences that stood out was the Disney & Pixar Short Film Festival at the Magic Eye Theater in Epcot Center

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I have to admit, that this was one of the last places in Epcot I wanted to visit. Although I love Pixar and their work (of which I have written about here & here), I would rather have saved the movie watching for home and not for Disney World.  I reluctantly agreed to watch these films and thought the theater would be a great place for air conditioning and to take a rest.  I was pleasantly surprised, however, that this 4D experience captured me from the instant it started.  Not only did these 3D films include water, wind, smell and lighting effects, but the seating area in the theater itself moved to reflect the events of the stories.

It is clear that the future of entertainment is immersive and in addition to the countless immersive experiences Disney World offers, we see more and more examples popping up.  Most recently I learned about The Runner, a new type of immersive reality competition, created by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.  But immersive is more than the future of gaming, television or movies….it can be the future of education.  The goal of any immersive experience is to surround people in an experience, content or story, leading to complete engagement.  We can create experiences for our learners that are akin to what we see in Disney World or elsewhere, by leveraging both the digital and physical worlds in order to fully immerse our students in what they are learning.

2. Gamification

Yes, my son loved Disney World.  What kid wouldn't?  However, his level of excitement wasn't as high as I had expected.  That is until we discovered the “Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom”. 

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Our adventure began at the 'Secret Sorcerer Recruitment Center'.  

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It was there that we discovered that volunteers were needed to 'protect' the Magic Kingdom.

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My son was trained and became an apprentice sorcerer.  He was told that his job was to help the wizard Merlin fight evil. All apprentice sorcerers are given a map and a set of cards which contain characters and magic spells.  Using the map, participants unlock secret Magic Portals, scattered all around the park.  Once the portals are unlocked, a video of the villain plays, and the spells on the cards can be used to fight them, simply by holding the cards up to the screens. 

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This interactive game caused my son to run, not walk, around the Magic Kingdom. He felt as though he was privy to information, adventures and locations that the average park attendee was not. Each time he unlocked a new location, people around him were ooing and ahhing and amazed at how something they viewed as inconspicuous, came to life. Card trading is a huge part of the game and my son was interacting and collaborating with other park guests.

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This jolt of gamification took my son's Disney World experience to another level, as it can do for many classrooms.  For more on gamification and learning, take a look at The Game Believes in You, by Greg Toppo & Gamify Your Classroom by Matthew Farber.

3. Imagination

A focus of Epcot Center is the Imagination Pavilion.  In this area, participants can go on a 'Journey Into Imagination' with Figment, a small purple dragon.The message for participants is that a little imagination can go a long way. In addition to a ride through the Imagination Institute, there are also areas called the 'What If' Labs. These labs offer hands-on experiences, which encourage stretching your imagination.

One of my son's favorite 'What If' Lab, was Figment's Melody Maker, which allows guests to act as a musical conductor and cause Figment to play an instrument.  

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Another favorite 'What If' Lab of my son's was something called 'Stepping Tones', which featuring picture panels making sounds after squares on the ground are stepped on. 

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After these two experiences in the 'What If' Labs, my son asked why music class couldn't be like this and said all it would take is a little imagination.

4. Progress

Tomorrowland's Carousel of Progress reminded me that Walt Disney was a visionary who was fascinated with the idea of how technological innovations affect every day living and how important it is to keep moving forward and to look towards the future.

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Education is slow to change and adapt, but as we have seen demonstrated through the Future Ready Initiative, we as educators must leverage digital tools and necessary technologies to prepare our students for success.

5. Storytelling

I have written at length about the importance of storytelling and education.  My trip to Disney World just further emphasized to me the power of storytelling.  My entire Disney World experience felt like a story, in which I was one of the main characters. As Disney World so perfectly executed, they perfectly encapsulated their rides, experiences, opportunities and adventures, in story form. These stories were personal, inspiring and motivational.  We as educators need to embrace storytelling as a powerful tool to use across all grade levels, content areas and platforms. Please check out my blog for more on the power of storytelling and education.

What are your experiences with the ideas I have outlined?  What have I left out?  What other ways do you think Disney World can impact the future of learning?