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.


12 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar

    More interesting,more efficient. Visualisation is better than reading.

  2. avatar
    Vesile Derya Cakir

    We know that students learn informally while playing games. As a language teacher I know that many students learn English by playing online multiplayer digital games. There are research papers about this topic. Games don’t have to be educational besides students may find them boring. On the other hand we can use various types of digital games in our classes depending on our topic.

  3. avatar

    Street games, like running wild outside and getting fresh air – THAT’s what helps children learn better, not sticking some alt reality goggles on their face!!!!!

    • avatar

      I agree with you. There is no substitute for this. I am fascinated by the recent movement of ‘forest’ or ‘outdoor’ schools in primary education.

  4. avatar

    It depends on the games. Some games enhance visuospatial abilities, reaction time, hand-eye coordination but others simply dampen students’ minds and they make them addicted and aggressive. We should be cautious when implementing such ideas on young students, because their cognitive development is still under construction and a potential harm of digital technology will definitely have unpleasant outcomes in the long term in students’ mind. And games cannot replace books, under any circumstances.

  5. avatar

    Omg…. what have we become! 😠

  6. avatar

    And than we wonder why our children have 2 minute attention span, are not creative in any way or form and don’t engage in anything that doesn’t bombard them with flashy visual stimuli

  7. avatar

    All video games are brainwashing !!!! Playing outside with others kids is the best thing, to have a real childhood!

  8. avatar
    catherine benning

    How can games help children learn better?

    If Europe truly wants to teach children, or a better way to put it is, allow children to improve their ability to learn through stimulation, via their natural need to please that is a positive thought. Then, once that premise has been accepted, all you have to do is follow the basic pattern of Glenn Doman. His theory and experience has been around for a very long time and proven to work. The problem for the EU and the West in general is, it goes against their policy of advancement through political rubbish, spilled out against the importance of parental presence, aspiration and devotion. Therefore, it will be a hard pill to swallow because, in reality, those at the top know all there is about how to promote the learning ability in children. It is as obvious as the nose on your face.

    Fresh air, communication with others, physical education from infancy, as movement pumps blood through the veins to replenish the brain and create growth for thought. Feed them with knowledge on every level and be ready to take the job on as parent and leader, not dominant friend. Motivate by belief in their natural instincts rather than manipulate with robotic technology. Give freedom to think as individuals, not force intelligence in tandem. They must be free to think outside the box as an asset not as an impediment. Leonardo da Vinci was free to think randomly.

    I know from experience the mother/child relationship is the single most important learning curve available to the human brain. And political ideology removes it at its earliest possible minute. Why do you think that is?

  9. avatar
    Kevin Hart

    Their imagination and thinking power get increased. By playing mind games their mind gets sharper and concentration also increases.

  10. avatar
    Daniel Lozba

    Learning, in a similar context to gaming, will be more effective due to the emergence of internal motivation, increased attention and determination in skills formation and assimilation of new knowledge.
    Unfortunately, students less and less prefer to play outdoor games, leading to certain illnesses or shortcomings.

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