Deeper Learning With Video Games

Deeper Learning With Video Games

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What is learning? The acquisition of new skills, knowledge and abilities through various means, including being taught, studying or with experience. What is the best way to learn? A significantly more challenging question with no definite answer, but we can try to answer it:

It may very well be a myth that everybody has a specific way that is the best way for them to learn. However, specific concepts are certainly best taught in a certain way. It wouldn’t make much sense to teach grade school kids the Solar System without using pictures. An image is immediately accessible, but a minute description of the Sun’s exact diameter and distance is a terrible way get a quick grasp. Conversely, a calculation such as “302-100” is far more efficient to depict with numbers than actually visualizing hundreds of separate entities.

At this point, we know quite well the benefits of conventional ways of learning, such as reading and writing. But what about video games? You may very well be surprised to learn the unique benefits research has uncovered for learning with video games.


The Advantages of Video Game Learning

One great advantage of video game learning is that you are given immediate feedback. In stark contrast, a conventional classroom test offers no feedback whatsoever: you go to class, study, do the test, and only then are given feedback when the graded test returns, when it is too late to do anything about it. Conversely, in a game such as Contraption Maker, should you do something wrong, your contraption will not work. You can just try again until you get it right, without fear of failure.

Researchers, such as Levy and Mislevy (2004) have suggested that “simulation games could be closely aligned to content standards, could give just-in-time feedback on performance, and present data on problem-solving in situ that would be far superior to those data gathered through traditional measurement instruments such as tests.” (page 5, Steinkuehler & Squire, in Sawyer’s (Ed.), Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences) In other words, games are simply built in a way that is conducive to feedback, learning and improvement.

What’s more, games are not even in opposition to conventional learning methods, but are in fact a sort of fusion of them, combining the best of written text, audio, visuals and interaction. Compton-Lilly et al. write that “our findings suggest that games (and perhaps similar media) are not replacing text reading but rather sit in a complex and productive ecology with them.” (source)



Games in the Classroom

Games just might be the crucial element missing from the classrooms of today. That’s certainly what R.F. Mackey, writing for Stanford News, states: “We may think we’re pretty smart, but in fact we have very little notion of how humans learn. Kids know: They play games. Until, that is, they go to school. That’s when the games stop. And often, so does the learning.” (source)

Mackey presents the interesting thought that it is not IQ tests or even intelligence itself that predict how well students thrive and succeed. Rather, it is “According to [professor of literacy studies at Arizona State University James] Gee, skills such as patience and discipline, which one should acquire as a child but often does not, correlate with success better than IQ scores do. And those non-cognitive skills – that is, not what you know but how you behave – are far better suited to a game context than to a traditional classroom and textbook context.” (source)


The greatest challenge with game-based learning is the affordability. Can a school afford computers? What about tablets, sufficient Internet connections or the maintenance and periodic upgrades advanced electronics invariably require? This doesn’t even take into accounts the necessary skills required, the games themselves or the learning materials.

For some schools, it may look grim. Fortunately, this is not so: advancements with computers have been slowing down for a long time, which in turn means that upgrades and replacements typically do not become crucial as quickly. Even modest computers are typically more powerful than the ones NASA used to send people to the Moon. When it comes to the educational games, affordable, high-quality options are available.