Who’s winning with game-based learning?

This week the UK’s National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) released a study examining the latest research about game-based learning.

The main findings in the NFER report were:

  • The literature was split on the extent to which video games can impact upon overall academic performance.
  • The studies consistently found that video games can impact positively on problem solving skills, motivation and engagement. However, it was unclear whether this impact could be sustained over time.
  • Despite some promising results, the current literature does not evidence adequately the presumed link between motivation, attitude to learning and learning outcomes. Overall, the strength of the evidence was often affected by the research design or lack of information about the research design.

As you know, I work with many organisations in developing and deploying games to help them engage and communicate with their audiences more effectively.  The usefulness of games is a big deal to me.  As I’ve said before, I am sceptical about the impact of many so-called educational or serious games but I do think games and game mechanics are brilliant for:

  • Cosmetics – making the unpleasant or mundane more palatableNFER cogs
  • Confidence – offering the chance to practise and fail softly
  • Catalyst – as a spring board to further investigation
  • Collaboration – as a means of pooling our intellectual and social capital

However, the one aspect that many organisations neglect is that of use context.  Of one thing I am certain: the impact of games (or indeed any educational intervention) depends on the pre- and post-experiences of the learners as much as the ‘play’ itself.   That’s what the most effective teachers do so brilliantly – they prime learners for the game with an air of expectation and intrigue, and then help them think about what it might mean after they’ve finished playing.  Vygotsky called it ‘scaffolding,’ and there’s lots of evidence of its benefits.

There are no real shortcuts to learning but everyone, even the most disaffected, experiences a profound sense of satisfaction when they discover something new, find they can do something better or see something more clearer.  Games, used well, are one way to encourage that delight.

[I work with many groups and organisations to train staff about game-based learning or design and develop games themselves; would you like me to work with you? Drop me a line using my contact form.]

Tags: , , , , , , ,