Learning from Gaming

There is an interesting article published yesterday in the Harvard Business Review that takes a look at the idea of increasing the use of games in the classroom.  This is not surprising given the continue growth in the game industry and as a larger percentage of the population has grown up with technology, the percentage of people playing games is impressive.  So how many people are actually playing games?  Can games be an effective education resource?  How can games be used most effectively in education?

Lets start with the audience.  According to a survey of 36,000 people conducted by the gamesindustry.com and tns, an astounding 83% of the US Population plays games.  Some on a personal computer, some on a mobile device and some via a game consul.  This would explain why the game industry is expected to generate $70b in annual revenue by 2015 and eclipsed the movie industry and music industry around 2008.

According to a recent survey, 83% of people in the US play games and the number is even higher in younger age groups.

In younger age groups the number is even higher.  According to the survey, 90% of boys and 81% of girls between the ages of 8 and 12 play games.

And not only are people playing games the amount of time spent playing games is remarkable.  Game playing is now the number one pastime of boys ages 8-12, spending 13 hours a week on average playing games, compared to 10.2 for TV and 9.1 on the Internet.  For the population as a whole, the time gaming is about 10 hours a week on average, compared to about 11.1 hours in the Internet and 10.9 hours watching TV.

As a delivery platform gaming has the potential to be the single most important delivery platform for information, and it is clear as a platform it is already well adapted by the majority of the population.

Are Games and Effective Learning Resource?

Doing a little research here the data does not appear to be as conclusive but does suggest it can be.  According to a research summary written by Scott Robertson, a graduate student in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University.

In pilot testing of Phoenix Quest, use of the game by itself produced only moderate learning gains. However, when students used the game in conjunction with supporting classroom activities (e.g. writing, paper and pencil activities, and discussions) the researchers observed highly substantial learning gains.

So fear not educators, games are not here to replace you but are here to help you more effectively teach complex subjects and augment other learning opportunities and interactions.

Having longer periods to interact with games also appears to have a stronger impact on learning, In another study by D. Lieberman, published in the Journal of Ambulatory Care Management, a game was used to help educate children about their own health management.  According to the results of the study, children who took the games home and used them for one week to six months improved their ability to manage the effects of their asthma or diabetes, increased their resolve not to smoke, and reduced their emergency care visits by up to 77 percent.

More research is clearly needed, but educational games that are integrated into a broader educational program can be a very effective tool for educators.  It is not clear that games as a stand alone platform (without integration into broader educational programs) can be as effective as more traditional methods.  And with so many people already playing games, an educational game that is also entertaining could be a blockbuster in terms of dollars and societal value.

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