Why Video Games Can Achieve Educational Objectives
Video games have several key features that make them attractive as a means to meet educational objectives. Primarily, games are intended to be enjoyable pursuits and video games have achieved this to amazing success leading to $65B of gross revenues in 20115, a figure surpassing that of the motion picture industry which grossed $10.2B that same year.6 In addition to their appeal, video game design has evolved to incorporate a number of features demonstrated to be successful as pedagogy.
One advantage of using games in the academic space is that they commonly employ a self-paced model of ‘concurrent chaining’ in which tasks are first presented in their simplest forms, but gain complexity following each player success. This approach has been shown to be successful compared to other methods of teaching by continuously involving the player in trial and error testing and thus providing more interaction and engagement with the teaching device compared to lecturer-based education alone. 1,2
A second feature of video games is that they specifically engage players by the use of storytelling – an art as old as human culture itself. Story is central to the way that people grasp the events of their lives and as such, it is vital that education be delivered in this form in order for it to make sense and be memorable. 3
However, engagement is only valuable inasmuch as it affords greater academic gains or improves attitudes towards a subject or learning in general. In an assessment of students enrolled in an undergraduate Physics course, learning outcomes were greatly improved by any implementation of interactive learning. 4
The challenge is to provide software that is 1) interesting enough to students for them to actively engage with and explore and 2) of high enough quality that this engagement is not achieved at the expense of the educational purpose. Few games achieve both of these goals simultaneously. Presently, much of the educational software market is awash in flashcard / random quiz question generators that provide test preparation without any attempt at engaging the student. Likewise, entertainment games give short shrift to scientific principles of any kind, instead inventing new rules for nature that serve only the interests of the game without providing any educational content.
Together, these features describe a successful means of improving education and, possibly more important, the enjoyment of education. At long last, having ‘computers in the classroom’ may provide a real, measurable benefit aside from assuring parents that technology is being used and that we assume this must lead to some improvement… we hope.
1. Graesser, A. C. & Person, N. K. Question Asking During Tutoring. American Educational Research Journal 31, 104–137 (1994).
2. Peck, A. C. & Detweiler, M. C. Training Concurrent Multistep Procedular Tasks. Human Factors 42, 379–389 (2000).
3. Zabel, M. K. Storytelling, myths and folk tales. Preventing School Failure 32, 28–41 (1991).
4. Hake, R. R. Interactive-engagement versus traditional methods: A six-thousand-student survey of mechanics test data for introductory physics courses. American Journal of Physics 66, 64 (1994).
6. Boxofficemojo – http://boxofficemojo.com/studio/?view=company&view2=yearly&yr=2011&p=.htm