What Higher Education Can Learn From Video Games

Game-based learning motivates students both in and out of the classroom

IAAPA Conference 2011 Orlando, FL

Game-based learning is so effective because the actual progress built into any game is the actual lessonóbe it the skill and dexterity needed to shot a precise arrow to the knee of your opponent in Skyrim, or the strategy and technique needed to maneuver an aircraft during a Federal Aviation Administration flight simulation to train new pilots. The truth is when individuals are actually engaged, for example with a game they enjoy, their minds experience the self-fulfilling gratification of coming to understand how to succeed regardless of the gameís entertainment or real life learning value. This is much more effective when you compare it to memorizing facts in cheap textbooks.

The benefits of delivering game-based learning to educate college students or train employees for a new job are huge when you consider the following stats:

  • 72% of U.S. households play computer games or video games on a daily basis
  • Approximately $25.1 billion was spent on video games, hardware and accessories in 2010
  • 1 million+ subscribers spend approximately 23 hours a week playing World of Warcraft
  • Surprisingly, 42% of all game players are women so there is (almost) equal motivation from both sexes

What do these statistics from the Entertainment Software Association tell us? That we live in a world where all ages, sexes and races are willing and motivated to learn specific skills if we engage their problem-solving skills via a well-designed game rather than the same old lecture in a classroom. For example, game-based learning is now being taught to train:

  • Surgical students on proper laparoscopic techniques on virtual patients
  • Pilots in training via flight simulators until they are ready to fly real aircraft
  • New emergency responders to deal with callers under duress
  • Fire fighters and police in simulated hazardous or dangerous, life-threatening settings

A well-designed game or simulation can train an individual and arm them with the proper techniques for their job in a safe settingói.e., pilots can be trained via flight simulators until they are prepared to take on a test pilot (or modified aircraft) and then move on to a Boeing with passengers.

Why is game-based learning so effective?

Weíve all been there, an employee training program, a college lecture, or a workplace safety meeting where we’re simply not engaged and not really paying attention to the techniques. During times like these, true and effective learning, which is acquiring the problem-solving skills and techniques necessary to respond under pressure in a variety of situations, is never effective. Games, on the other hand, simulate teach one the skills they need to use in the face of a real challenge. Games teach:

  • Via interactive experiences that actively engage the learner in the learning process
  • By drawing us in to the virtual environment that look and feel familiar and relevant
  • By helping individuals see the connection between the learning experience and a present situation (e.g., be it by busting down walls with your Angry Birds slingshot or understanding how the skills you’re learning will translate into and improve your real-life job)
  • Practical skills in a cost-effective and low-risk environment (e.g., safety training using simulated crane machinery)
  • Learners to re-enact or practice a situation multiple times and exploring different actions and consequences  to truly understand how tragedy occurs (i.e., a patient death during a surgical simulation) and how to successfully overcome it next time
  • Use the value of working toward a goal by challenging us to problem-solve, choose actions and face the consequences of our actions
  • By allowing us to make mistakes in a risk-free setting by learning through practice and experimentation
  • The practice of behaviors and problem-solving skills that translate from the game environment to real life

Compared to traditional, lecture approaches learning where students sit passively either in a classroom or training boardroom to learn the workplace procedures by memory without any real-life interaction; game-based learning lets individuals learn the facts by testing (via practice and failure) until we commit it, not only memory, but also understand the howís and whys of our success in a real-life situation.

by Brenda Ortega

Brenda Ortega works as both a substitute teacher, freelance writer and sometimes finds time to write her own blog The Educational Bar. She loves delving into the research side of writing, which mostly focuses on educational issues. She has written for a variety of material, giving tips for students on cutting university costs; to parents on saving money for your child’s education; and even hopes to help educate others with her learning enhancement-based topics.

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