Does gaming have a place in digital learning as a viable educational tool?

Do video games have a place in home learning to boost lesson engagement, or are they simply a distraction for young people?

Digital learning has become significant in education as a result of the pandemic and schools are continually looking at new ways to engage and motivate students online. Historically, gaming has been associated with recreational activities rather than as a medium to boost and diversify learning engagement. The question is, does gaming have a viable role to play right now, as digital learning continues to claw its way to the forefront of education, or is it simply an unwelcome distraction?

From a parent perspective, over exposure to gaming and excessive screen time is an ongoing concern for many. Likewise, many schools have been slow to introduce gamification into classroom-based lessons, due to fears that it could distract and damage concentration. Today, that picture is very different. Schools are becoming far more used to using fit for purpose technology, not only to advance access to learning but also to bring a new dimension to the classroom. As with all learning, variety is key and if the recent period of remote learning has taught us anything, it’s that children can thrive using a multitude of tools, both physically in class and remotely online. Gaming has the potential to become a great educational tool in the right context and environment. Teaching a healthier approach to video gaming is also important to maximise the opportunities for learning and curb unhealthy habits.

Let’s play

Regardless of age and disposition, as human beings we gravitate towards play; whether that means taking part in all manner of sports and games, enjoying crafts, playing board games, musical instruments, attending events or simply enjoying some social time with friends or family. We are naturally driven towards the social act of ‘playing’.  On that basis, it’s a natural progression for educators to consider how play might be incorporated into the classroom experience from a digital perspective to increase attainment. Gaming evokes that collegial sense of play, which young people are drawn to. Yet, aside from being entertaining and challenging, gaming can have a far bigger impact on learning that one might first think.

“Implemented in the right way, gaming can help to hone and nurture lots of transferrable skills, from problem-solving to literacy and technical ability”

Implemented in the right way, gaming can help to hone and nurture lots of transferrable skills, from problem-solving to literacy and technical ability. As schools, we are well aware that happiness usually results in greater academic attainment and achievement. If teachers can somehow ‘gamify’ certain aspects of the learning process, perhaps some of the more stressful elements of classroom-based learning could be negated? Considering short bursts of a tricky game, for instance, might fuel that much-needed boost of energy and motivation in class, which helps to refocus and reset the brain ready for the next task. Equally, games often have the ability to provide feedback and, in some cases, can be customised to the individual child’s ability, needs and preference.

Boosting lateral thinking

Most digital gaming platforms work on tried and tested methodology, which often takes the form of challenge, progression, reward and recognition. Playing video games in the context of a maths lesson, for example, might also inspire certain attributes like determination and persistence, which in turn evokes community and creativity. From that perspective, we could use gaming to help us to think more laterally and with more agility, about how we might solve a particular problem.  Using skills developed via gaming may well help students tackle challenges and evaluate with fresh eyes.

There are of course different games that stimulate different responses and states of mind and it’s important that schools are mindful of this and choose the right kinds of games to bolster the learning experience. Not all games will be educationally-driven or effective in the classroom; some more useful games are known to activate the same blood flow patterns in the brain as meditation – these can help to focus minds, cultivate calm and boost mood. Using this kind of gaming approach to online learning could be a great way of keeping students grounded and on track. Trickier gaming puzzles can also increase dopamine levels in the brain, which is a neurotransmitter that increases work ethic and power. For older students with a challenging GCSE module to complete, these games may be useful to help them focus.

Putting gaming into practice

For schools, it’s a case of researching what’s out there and putting appropriate games into practice. Interestingly, popular game, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, includes a robust education mode and a research-based recreation of ancient Greece, which can be useful as another dimension, for students studying classical civilisation or history, for example. Other teachers have been using games such as Roblox and Minecraft to demonstrate scientific principles like climate change or cellular biology. Minecraft launched an educational mode in 2016 which Microsoft has since made free for educators and students. The edition comes with a suite of pre-made lesson plans. It provides a gamified way of capturing evidence of what students are learning as well as elevating the mastery of the subjects they are studying. Teachers can also use the game to model geometric concepts in maths, the effects of climate change and rising sea levels etc.

Gaming is fun, as many students will tell you. But stopping at this, is in reality, limiting the potential opportunity for its use across more mainstream education. Like adults, many children will struggle to focus on the same thing for long periods of time, so diversity of teaching tools and combining gaming with educational goals can really help.  Due to it its versatility and opportunity for team collaboration and leadership, gaming has great potential for boosting skills and refining abilities in the classroom.  As with anything this is all about balance, it is about using a variety of teaching methods, both online and offline to improve the overall learning experience and also to learn from the recent period of remote learning and bring some of that success to the forefront as we move forward into a future that will be increasingly shaped by the modern digital world.

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