How Video Games Can Support Learning

Instructor: Sharon Linde
Playing video games is something most kids find fun. School is not. What if there was a way to use video games to enhance student learning? Good news - there is! This lesson outlines what video games support learning and how to incorporate them into your classroom effectively.

Video Games and Education

Video games are super engaging and attractive to kids today. The exciting, stimulating and interactive nature of video games is what makes them great ways to pass time outside of school, but more and more educators are beginning to look at how to bridge them into the classroom. Once thought to be detrimental to learning, research is beginning to turn up benefits to technology and video game usage, specifically in three ways.

How Video Games Support Learning

  • Problem Solving: A real-world skill all learners need to master is being able to solve problems. Video games naturally lend themselves to this in simple and complex ways. Video game users are often challenged in a variety of ways - and need to analyze how to meet these challenges - within a small time frame. Educational games can offer specific content for student learning and reinforcement within problem/solution contexts. Used in puzzle-like situations, students can apply their knowledge of skills, such as math facts or history dates, to maneuver different levels of a game.
  • Individualized: Typical instruction offers slight variations for a wide range of learners. Video games, however, can adjust to the learner's skill level based on actions and answers. They may even be able to sense where and how a student performs to be more or less challenging. In this way, video games allow all learners to have a unique experience based on their personal needs. For example, a reading game could become more challenging depending on the number of correct answers, adjusting the skill level to meet the demands of high readers. In math, the game may be able to detect the user's ability to solve problems with accuracy and make adjustments. This dynamic allows the child to remain engaged - neither too challenged or too bored - and keeps them in the zone of development.
  • Connections: Long term learning is all about connections in the brain. Neurons, or brain cells, connect to other neurons, building networks, and communities of memories. Video games form strong connections for learners by allowing them to connect skills taught in the classroom to images they're more familiar with - those of the video graphics world. These connections become stronger with more use.

neuron

In another way, video games offer a connection between home and school as children are often able to (and want to) play games at home. Similarly, they are able to reach out in the cyber world and connect to other learners who are playing the same game, maybe in a totally different part of the world. How cool is that?

Effective Use

Video games are a great way to reinforce skills in the classroom, but they can be ineffective if not used correctly. For maximum punch, teachers should focus on guidance, challenging and student reflection.

  • Guide Learners: The most effective video and computer games are those that offer specific guidance. This guidance can come from within the game, such as directions, feedback or an in-video mentor of some type. Teachers should be sure there is some guidance within the game for maximum effectiveness
  • Challenging: Kids need to work in their zone of proximal development. This term refers to that sweet spot of not too easy and not too difficult. They need to be somewhat uncomfortable with the concept so they want to continue, but not so uncomfortable they become frustrated and quit. Educators need to adjust the level of intensity of video games so students are always in a learning state.
  • Reflection: For learning to stick with children, they need to find applications. After playing the game, teachers should provide students with a chance to reflect on the experience, either verbally or in written form. Some video games have this mechanism built in. If so, extend the learning by sharing experiences as a group after playing.

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