In the Before Times

I decided to look back in time to understand more about how games can support beneficial outcomes in learning. The article, Educational Games and Simulations: A Technology in Search of a (Research) Paradigm, is from 1996. The idea and use of games for learning go back several decades, so this article may seem old by today’s standards–what is new today will be old tomorrow. It was written in a time before information technology was as ubiquitous and beneficial for education as it is today. For perspective, I was looking for research that existed outside, or apart from contemporary studies.

What’s in a Game?

Using games for education can “provide an environment for the learner’s construction of new knowledge” (Gredler, 1996). I have come to this realization after many years of play and seeing more in games other than their entertainment value. Video games can give learners the opportunity to interact with a “knowledge domain” (Gredler, 1996). They have the ability to teach you how to think and can teach you specific skills, or knowledge if they are designed appropriately. Since I am new to the subject at this point, I have a limited understanding of what make a good educational game. I think that they should be engaging and by that I mean fun. They should be fun to figure out how to succeed in the game as well as learning practical skills, or information in the process. Gredler had a list how games in education should function:

  • to practice and/or to refine knowledge/skills already acquired,
  • to identify gaps or weaknesses in knowledge or skills,
  • to serve as a summation or review, and
  • to develop new relationships among concepts and principles.

The design of game used for education should be such that it limits distraction by including only those elements and mechanics that support the focus of the game’s intention. I created an e-learning course during the fall and I found it difficult to design the instruction to involve the user other than just giving them options to click here and watch this. The complexity of games makes their design inherently challenging. Add to that the need for effective learner engagement focused on a specific idea and you have your work cut out for you.

Press Start to Continue

I am becoming more interested in how the merging of games and learning can be studied, applied and improved. Yes, some of that is intellectual curiosity and the rest is the little kid in me, saying “Sweet, I have a productive excuse to play games!” Even though games and learning has been studied for years, it feels like the path ahead is untrodden and ripe for discovery.

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