How Trainyard Trains Your Brain
While Trainyard might seem like a pleasant diversion when you're waiting for takeout pizza, its design also provides an insightful illustration of the different models by which humans learn. Indeed, one of the most intriguing things about the game is that it's designed to be learned by actually playing. Trainyard starts out simply, with easily solved puzzles, and allows a player to progress to more difficult ones as quickly as he or she can solve them. Along the way, the game offers optional animated tutorials, which show how to draw corners on the grid and perform other functions. In that sense, it's an example of what educational experts call guided learning, which provides shaping experiences and feedback to players [source: Guided Learning Systems]. But Trainyard also relies upon experiential learning, a theoretical model in which a learner has experiences, reflects upon them, conceptualizes his or her own rules, and then engages in active experimentation to see whether those rules work [source: Atherton].
Additionally, Trainyard devotees improve their puzzle-solving skill by uploading their solutions to the Trainyard Web site and then comparing those to solutions that other users have created. While some players may rely upon others' postings as "cheats," it's much more fun to use the postings as jumping-off points from which you can develop an even more elegant solution yourself. In that sense, Trainyard also provides an opportunity for collaborative learning, a model in which people trying to master a skill or solve a problem work together in groups, sharing ideas and building upon others' inspirations [source: Smith and MacGregor].
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