Games and learning in education

It’s far more interactive and fun. Textbooks are making way for tablets, and traditional written exercises are giving way to games.

Games in education is not a new idea: as early as the 1970s researchers began studying the impact of video games on learning. Even with the cruder technology of that era, they found that video games motivated students to learn and aroused their curiosity.

The gamification of education

Today there are far more sophisticated and affordable devices to learn and play games on, such as tablets and ultraportable laptops targeted at educational use. There’s also a huge variety of educational apps and software, ranging from pre-school – such as the ABC’s Reading Eggs program – to high school and university. Since 2011, Minecraft has offered MinecraftEdu, a teacher-designed version of the popular game. It teaches skills including maths and foreign languages, as well as concepts such as social justice and fair trade.

For young people, gaming is a huge part of their culture. Over 95 per cent of Australian homes with school-age children had game devices in 2014, and 94 per cent of parents say their children learn about technology from playing games. Similarly, 83 per cent of gamers say games are educational.

Games can be a great way of helping students think through the concepts of the subject area they are learning about and test the skills they’ve learnt.

Higher education and beyond

At Macquarie University, biodiversity students use a simulation game called New Worlds to learn about working in the field. They survey and publish data on a virtual world, using the same tools and skills they would employ in the real world. It encourages a collaborative approach to learning, as students share data with their peers when making new discoveries.

New Worlds also includes an element of competition: the more efficient a student is at surveying and finding species, the higher their public ranking among other students. Competition is an important motivator for learners, with students gaining a sense of achievement as their skills increase and they overcome harder challenges.

This satisfaction can be channelled into progress. Research has found, for example, that boys show higher reading ability when reading text in online games than in books.

Another advantage is that games can enable more individualised learning, as students of different abilities play different levels and progress at their own pace. Teachers can easily track performance, and see who’s struggling and where.

From player to creator

As well as playing games, designing games can also be a great motivator for learning computer skills and the logic and problem-solving that game development involves. The annual Australian STEM Video Game Challenge aims to increase participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics by getting school students to create an original educational video game.

Gaming isn’t intended to completely replace books and other traditional forms of learning, but to help give students extra, more interactive ways to learn and study. With gamification also making inroads into the corporate market for adult training, it won’t be game over any time soon.


Originally published on ThinkFWD