• Michel Groenenstijn

What if... your school trip was a game?

Updated: Sep 26, 2018

About a year ago, I sat down with one of the biggest school trip companies in the Netherlands. After an hour of talking, I summarized the conversation like this: “So, the school mostly hopes everyone comes back alive and doesn’t drink too much, and the students spend most of their time hoping the can go shopping or drinking anyway?”

While being slightly amusing, I was also greatly annoyed. What a waste of opportunity: you’re abroad, in a new city, away from all the patterns and structures you’re used to and familiar with - isn’t that the best possible place to learn?

Turning to experiences and drawing on what I learned from building an escape room several years back, I came up with this idea: what if the whole of London was a game? In which an exciting story draws students in, with challenges not only fun to solve but designed in a way that teaches them some important life skills?

We sat down and dreamed up Sarah, a young woman in London who - for reasons still unclear - fell out with her university, was afraid of something or someone, asked a mysterious detective agency for help and disappeared after sending a very distressing last Facetime-message - right before the students’ school trip was about to leave for London.

Since the agency can’t find her and her last message clearly stated: “bright young minds will know what to do”, they’ve asked for the students help. They split up in teams and over the course of three days solve a number of challenges, designed to a) change your perspective, b) connect to strangers, c) speak English and d) look beyond the obvious and get to know the real London.

The challenges involve going on a tour with a former homeless person and showing an honest interest in their lives, diving into the street art scene and create your own work, beating the clock in a city-wide race without getting caught and exploring the hidden nooks and corners of one of the largest museums in the city.

We drew heavily on our experience design skills throughout this project to create a trip that is not only educational, but also fun for one of the most difficult groups I’ve ever had to design for: teenagers. Based on the first trips, I’m convinced we succeeded in doing so.

I believe that the combination of story, game dynamics and real-world, actual life skills are a tremendously powerful way to learn in new and exciting ways, and that there’s no reason a school trip should ever be boring again.

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This article is part of a series on different perspectives on Experience Design. It aims to show how you can create value and impact by consciously designing meaningful experiences: in education, business and personal life.