Education is a key aspect of personal development. For many people, education means rows of uniformed children sitting at desks, diligently copying from textbooks or listening attentively to their instructors. Yet specialists have spent decades pushing for a more flexible and creative approach; today it’s generally accepted that different students learn in different ways, and children can indeed learn through play.
Serious games are any games designed for purposes other than entertainment. They can include, for example, video games designed to help students explore complicated subjects, such as examining their own behaviour or the behaviour of others or simulating different environments and situations. Proponents argue that games can teach skills, such as problem solving, creativity, and teamwork. But can they back up their claims? What do the studies say? Is there evidence of games successfully being adopted as educational tools? Are games nothing but entertainment? Do they distract from the main learning outcomes? Or can games be just as serious, and teach important skills and help change behaviour?
What do our readers think? We had a question sent in from Ana, who says that games are not merely entertainment. She believes that they provide an opportunity to learn in an informal way, contributing greatly to the acquisition of non-formal skills and cognitive skills, memory, anticipating situations and planning strategies. Is she right? What kind of skills can children learn from educational games?
To get a response, we put Ana’s comment to Annamaria Lisotti, a Secondary Maths and Physics teacher in Italy, as well as a PhD student at the “Physics and Nanoscience graduate school” of the Physics Departement of the University of Modena and Reggio E. and international research centre. What would she say?
To get another perspective, we put the same comment to Svjetlana Kolić Vehovec, one of the lead researchers in the eConfidence project and a professor at the University of Rijeka’s Department of Psychology. How would she respond?
I agree that we can use games as a tool of informal learning. However, games can support not only non-formal skills, but also knowledge acquisition (for example about historical events, or mathematical functions). They can also support development of different cognitive skills, like strategic planning, problem-solving skills, and scientific thinking. But also games could foster social skills acquisition, like supporting victims in a bullying situation.
Next up, we had a comment from Christos, who agrees that games can be useful educational tools, but only if designed and used properly. So, what are the key elements to if games are to be used as educational tools?
How would Professor Svjetlana Kolić Vehovec respond?
To be effective, games should include a fantasy context, and mystery that leads to greater student interest and increased learning. The game should be visually appealing, consisting of [high quality] graphics that enhance motivation to engage with the game. It should also have progressive difficulty levels, and a certain amount of ambiguity to ensure an uncertain outcome.
For another take, we put Christos’ comment to Hannah Grainger Clemson, Schools Policy Officer in the European Commission’s Directorate General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture (though she is speaking in a personal capacity). What would she say?
I am not a game designer but I have ‘gamified’ learning experiences as a teacher and workshop facilitator. In other words, some tasks have be based on rewards, time pressure, competition and so on. Some key elements for me would be making it sufficiently challenging for the time and participants you have; making the learning clearly relevant to the needs of the participants; and taking part myself – enjoying and experiencing the game with them. So two out of the three are to do with how it is used in context, as Christos suggests is important.
Next, we had a comment from Prince, who thinks children learn in different ways, so games will be the right tool to help some children learn but not others. Is he right? Or can educational games be beneficial for all children?
How would Annamaria Lisotti respond?
Finally, how would Hannah Grainger Clemson respond to the same comment?
If Prince means that children learn (receive and process) in multiple ways, then I agree. Current pedagogical thought does not favour labelling children as a ‘type’ of learner though and I think all children can enjoy and engage in serious play in some way and motivation alone has a positive impact on learning. It will depend on the type of game. We still need more research in this area and neuroscience brain-imaging has contributed a lot to our understanding of how our brains react when engaged in such games. We do know that we can respond to multiple signals such as image plus audio. This kind of research is also informing educational videos and brand marketing.
How can games help children learn better? What are the key elements to properly design and use games as educational tools? And can educational games be beneficial for all children? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!
IMAGE CREDITS: (c) BigStock – Tom Wang
Editorially independent content supported by: eConfidence – Confidence in behaviour changes through serious games is a 24 months project funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement – No 732420. This communication reflects only the author’s view. It does not represent the view of the European Commission and the EC is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains. See our FAQ for more details.