4 Things Parents Need to Know About Games, Learning, and Gamification

Friday, November 6, 2015 -- Sarah Cornelius

Today’s children are not short on screen time. For many, a significant portion of this digital interaction is spent glued to a video game for hours on end—often to their parents’ frustration or irritation. These games aren’t usually thought of as educational, and in many cases, they aren’t. However, the appeal of gaming (and the possibility it holds for learning) is gaining traction in the world of education, and “gamification” is becoming increasingly common.

So if your children come home and tell you that they played video games at school or that their homework is to play a game on their smartphone, tablet, or laptop, don’t be too surprised. There is a growing body of research to support the effectiveness of games and gamification in education. Here are four key things that parents should know about games and learning:

1. Games support student-centered learning and intrinsic motivation

It’s simple—games are engaging. This should come as no surprise to any parent of a video-game-loving child. A well-designed learning game immerses a child in the context of a gaming world or story, while also helps them understand academic content through frequent interaction and application. Games also help students feel like they have ownership of their learning by letting them choose different options or paths as they move through the objectives. Last but not least, a “level” system or goals within a game can appeal to naturally competitive children and give all students a sense of accomplishment when they reach a new milestone in the game.

2. Games offer a chance for practice and repetition of skills

The opportunity to use skills, especially new ones, is essential to mastery and deep understanding. Motivating children to actually practice new skills, though, can sometimes be a challenge. This is one of the most significant benefits of educational games. They appeal to students, taking the monotony out of practice in favor of a competitive environment that often incorporates some kind of reward (points, gems, or buried treasure to name a few examples) for every correctly answered question.

3. Games provide students with immediate and constructive feedback

Feedback is key to helping students progress through new material and accomplish meaningful practice. In games, feedback like this is nearly constant through constructs like points, earning lives, or advancing levels. This feedback lets students know where they’re exceling and where they need to continue working—and it engages them in the game (and therefore, the material) in the process.

4. Games give students a safe space to experience failure

Knowing how to fail, and then effectively bounce back and persevere, is a learned skill. If students never experience failure, they will miss out on the chance to develop the necessary ability to overcome it. That said, experiencing failure in a manner that is constructive, instead of hurtful or intimidating, is also important, and educational games can provide one such avenue. Failing to reach the next level, or having your avatar run out of lives, is obviously a very small-scale experience of failure. But, it is also a very safe one which encourages students to apply creative thinking and try a different approach as they make a new attempt.

Interested in learning more about gamification in education? The Massachusetts Institute of Technology runs its own Education Arcade dedicated to advancing research in the field of gamification and producing effective learning games. MIT recently published this study on designing Better Learning in Games. You can also check out this blog post to learn more about Edmentum’s work to incorporate effective gaming elements into our online solutions!