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A Battle for Student Attention: What Teachers Can Learn From Fortnite

Posted by Sam Cressman on 9/16/19 11:03 AM
Sam Cressman
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Just in case you haven't heard, Fortnite is an incredibly popular video game that seemingly every kid, teenager, and young adult is mildly (or seriously) addicted to.

Although it is easy to write-off Fortnite as just another video game, it is important to understand the reasons behind Fortnite's meteoric rise and sustained popularity. Furthermore, we can examine Fortnite and see what teachers can learn from Fortnite's expansive playbook that has made it the most prominent video game at this point in time. Let's review:

What is Fortnite? 

Why is Fortnite so addicting and popular?

What can teachers learn from Fortnite?

What is Fortnite?

Fortnite is a "battle royale" game that is similar to The Hunger Games in concept. 100 players start each game in a flying school bus and are flown over a large island with different areas to explore and loot for weapons and supplies.

Each game has a circle-shaped storm that is randomly assigned to cover a specific area of the map, and getting caught in the storm can hurt (or even eliminate) your player. As the game progresses, the storm area increases, forcing players to come closer together and fight each other. The ultimate goal is to be the last player or team standing. 

With over 250 million players as of March 2019, how did Fortnite become so addicting and popular?

Why is Fortnite So Addicting and Popular?

Fortnite is both addicting and popular for three main reasons:

  • Accessibility
  • The Social Components
  • Easy to adopt, difficult to master, and constantly changing


It seems safe to assume that most children or teenagers in 2019 are digital natives after having been using or exposed to computers, laptops, tablets, video game consoles, and smart phones for their entire lives. 

Fornite speaks directly to digital natives. The game is well-designed, free-to-play, offers a built-in multiplayer option (allowing play with friends) and is available on all tech devices. Players can even watch game the game through Twitch, a free game streaming service, as a way to learn new strategies.

The Social Components

Fortnite has many built-in features to encourage social interaction between players. A huge component of Fortnite's popularity comes from customizable and unlockable content for your character including clothing (or "skins") and dances. For example, ask any middle school boy to do the Floss Dance. This content can be unlocked through purchase or by completing in-game challenges.

When children see their friends in an outfit or doing a dance that they do not yet have, they are immediately compelled to either purchase or complete the necessary challenges to unlock this content for themselves. This means playing more Fortnite. Many of the challenges even require a teammate to complete!

Easy to Adopt, Difficult to Master, and Constantly Changing

Fortnite is simple enough that nearly anyone can quickly understand how to play. This is by design and can be deceptive as newer players face more experienced players and are quickly eliminated. Fret not newer players: post-elimination, players are given the option to avoid frustration and immediately join a new game. 

Fortnite understands the importance of balancing gaining new players while keeping current players happy enough to continue playing. Fortnite accomplishes this by continuously updating the game with new challenges, items, areas of the map, and game modes which result in a gaming experience that always feels "new."

What Can Teachers Learn from Fortnite?

What stood out most to you?

If Fortnite is considered to be the gold standard game with hundreds of millions of excited players at various ages and skill levels, can we take what makes Fortnite "Fortnite" and "Fortnite" our classrooms? Let's put the above Fortnite perspectives into education:

Accessibility for Teachers

Technology has completely transformed how students learn and interact with the world around them. Now more than ever students feel empowered to learn how they want to and when they want to. It is critical to consider if your classroom has caught up with this trend, which is not going away anytime soon. 

Furthermore, are your students provided with on-demand support resource? If gamers (many of which are students) watch the best Fortnite players on Twitch to learn tips-and-tricks, do your students also know where to access the most-helpful resources for their Geometry homework? 

The Social Components of Learning for Teachers

Does your lesson plan have a built-in "hook"? Consider this question: are students coming back to a specific activity because they are forced to, or because they want to? Are students being incentivized through rewards (example: gold star stickers) to return and improve?

Furthermore, are students incentivized to help each other learn and excel? In Fortnite, your team is only as strong as your weakest player, and players are incentivized to help their teammates survive and improve to increase their own chances of winning.

As much as educators would like for the student/teacher ratio in their classrooms be as close to 1:1 as possible, this is unlikely to occur moving forward. However, consider how much students learn in group settings: are we incentivizing students enough to also act as teachers to their peers?

Easy to Adopt, Difficult to Master, and Constantly Changing for Teachers

Lesson planning is extremely difficult simply because it is challenging to make everyone happy. If lessons are too simple, some students will quickly become unengaged. If lessons are too difficult, some students will quickly become frustrated and give up. 

Focus on the core of your lesson: is everyone engaged to start with, are there opportunities for weaker students to practice and improve, and are there opportunities for stronger students to advance without compromising the learning experience of other students?

Lessons should be simple enough to accommodate all students while challenging and incentivizing enough to keep the top students engaged and coming back for more. Furthermore, content should be refreshed as often as possible to meet the expectations of digital native students who are growing up in a constantly-changing world.

Would you like to see how Knowre addresses the above with our students?

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Topics: Gamification, Student Success, Math Instruction, Teachers