While few would disagree that you learn as much from experiences as you do from books, when you apply that theory to having experiences in the virtual world of video games, many don’t count that as “real” learning. However, there are a few experts that are beginning to challenge that idea.
Recently Dr. James Paul Gee, a professor at Arizona State University and leading authority on literature and educational games, gave a talk at the Learning and Brain Conference. Dr. Gee spoke about 10 ways in which video games are good for learning.
1. They Feed the Learning Process – the best learning experiences have the following values: motivation, clear goals, interpreted outcomes, and immediate and copious feedback. Video games have all these components.
2. They Eliminate the Need for Testing – the current assessment forces teachers to teach to the test. Video games hold out a different way of thinking about assessments namely, that they don’t need it. “Learning and assessment are exactly the same thing,” Gee said. “If you design learning so you can’t get out of one level until you complete the last one, then there is no need to test.”
3. They Build on Experience – with every new level, the knowledge and expertise picked up in previous levels can be applied to new experience, a fundamental part of leaning.
4. They Refine Teachers as Learning Designers – game designers create well-designed experiences and social interactions. They also encourages kids to share tactics, experiences, and explanations to cement what they have learned.
5. They Teach Language Though Experience – the benefit of video games is that as children play the game they experience every image, action, and dialogue as it’s described.
6. They Entice Kids to Love Challenges – the video game industry is making a very good living selling toys and gems that are difficult to master. “They’re selling stuff to kids that are complex and hard. And because it’s outside of school, it’s virtually addictive.”
7. They Motivate Learning – it’s hard to motivate students to learn something difficult without context, without motivation and the gratification. Video games provide all of that.
8. They Teach Problem-Solving – when it comes to problem-solving, research shows that if you teach and test facts and formulas, students learn facts and formulas. This doesn’t correlate to solving problems, but if you teach through problem-solving, students learn problem-solving skills, plus they learn the facts for free.
9. They Encourage Risk Taking – if the cost of failure is too high, students won’t try. If the cost is lower, like it is in video games, kids will continually rethink new tactics over and over again if something isn’t working.
10. They Provide a Learning Model for School – Many of the learning principals in video games can be applied to multiple subject areas in schools.
Now if you still doubt that kids learn from playing video games, just sit down with them and ask them to walk you through how to complete a level on their favorite game that they finished months ago. Likely, they will walk you through, step by step, and provide you with detail and insights you never would have gotten on your own. Then ask them to explain a Math, Science, or English concept they learned in school months ago. While they may be able to do both, it is likely that the level of excitement and detail will be lacking from the traditional learning model.
The results from the little experiment above, which I conducted with my own children, and the thousands of educational programs and apps that are being developed, make me very optimistic about how children are going to be learning in the future.