The Rationale for Using Games in Education – Underlying Teaching and Learning in Educational Games

The logical basis for using games in education would be that when shaped for education within serious games, they can help learners learn faster and easier then some other methods of teaching. Games have infinite possibilities and provide active learning where they are engaging learners in play rather then listening or reading. They have player agency and can be customized to a specific learner with adjustable difficulty levels and learning methods. They provide rapid feedback, allowing reflection, discovery and comprehension.

Serious games can help the players experience something that in the real world would be physically impossible to achieve. It’s creating an environment full of endless possibility, and within itself can become a classroom on its own. A solid argument can be made that serious games can, and is, providing education with an entirely new platform full of endless possibility. With this technology available to us now it’s only a matter of time before this needs to be implemented into all school systems.

“The motivational virtues of video games are what initially entice training and development professionals to look to games­-based approaches, but there is a lot more  to GBL (game based learning) than simply using fun as a means to engage learners.” – Kevin Corti, PIXELearning.

We need serious games because not only can they provide a different approach to education, but it can teach a variety of things that were never possible before due to time, cost, and safety issues fulfilling a need in the education system.

“Game designers can make worlds where people can have meaningful new experiences, experiences that their places in life would never allow them to have or even experiences no human being has ever had before. These experiences have the potential to make people smarter and more thoughtful.” -James Paul Gee

A question posed by James Paul Gee, “how do you get someone to learn something long, hard, and complex, and yet still enjoy it?” And in his article Good Video Games and Good Learning he says that game designers have found methods of getting people to “learn and enjoy learning.”

Player agency is a key element to games that could help education engage more students in a enjoyment of learning. Too many students drop out of school due to not being inspired enough player agency can help change those statistics. Player agency  makes the player fell as if their decisions matter. Serious games can be so important to education because they impart agency.

Gee makes a point that decisions and actions make a significant difference in the classroom curriculum. That if students are not helping to design their own learning, then they are not agents in their own learning. He says that “The whole curriculum should be shaped by learner’s actions and react back on the learner in meaningful ways.” He’s stating that different learning styles can work for different people, and through serious games the players have the chance to discover favored learning styles. Serious games can create the ability for players to try out different learning styles and different problem solutions without risking a bad grade.

In the real world it could take weeks or even months to see the ramifications of a choice, and even then in the time it took for that choice to take effect – you may have forgotten what choice it was you made in the first place and whether it was good or bad. In a game you make a choice and see it’s ramifications straight away, and not only that but it can teach players that minor changes can be the difference between glorious success and abject failure.

This rapid feedback can inspire students to learn by providing real results for their decisions and actions straight away so they can learn faster and feel as if they can accomplished, rather than just taking in information. Cycle practice of a skill, failing in ways the learners have to re-think and analyse until the skill is nearly automatic can develop expertise. This can be seen in games with levels and bosses when experiencing a plan and practice style of play. Players are confronted with a boss that makes them use developed skills with new skills to beat it, then they repeat the process in a new level. To develop skills to an expert level it would be effective to routinize skills, then challenge them with new difficulties. The difficulties force people to reflect on their skill and learn from it. (Gee, 2005)

Games have the ability to experience expertise, where schools rarely do. Expertise lets the players learn to become skilled at learning to learn. Gee states that ” It also creates a rhythm and flow between practice and new learning and between mastery and challenge. It creates, as well, a feeling of accumulating knowledge and skills, rather than standing in the same place all the time or always starting over again at the beginning.”

Another way games have the ability to improve the development of learning in schools is by adapting level of difficulty in problem solving. In a classroom environment you may come across some issues where the work is too hard for one student yet to easy for another. This can lead to lack of motivation in students and lack of learning. To properly solve problems and learn from them the challenge needs to feel challenging but still achievable. Within serious games the player is constantly gaining feedback that lets them know their progress, and allows them to adjust difficulty levels to suit their level of competence easily. (Gee, 2005)

“Everybody is a Genius. But If You Judge a Fish by Its Ability to Climb a Tree, It Will Live Its Whole Life Believing that It is Stupid” – Albert Einstein

Works Cited

FutureLab, Senior Researcher Mary Ulicask, Games in Education: Serious Games, June 2010. 

“Learning by Design: Good Video Games as Learning Machines” (James Paul Gee, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2005)

PIXELearning Limited, Founder Kevin Corti,Game Based Learning; a Serious Business application, Feb 2006.


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