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This is why Video Games are the Future of Education

Redefining learning through technology, and why it matters

Photo by samuel lopez on Unsplash

Though I may be affixed firmly at the intersection between Tech and Snark, my main modus operandi is actually education.

I believe that knowledge is power, and access to information and the ability to nurture and acquire skills in a world that is exceedingly dependent on knowledge workers is pivotal for success.

I want to take this moment to write about how technology — specifically gaming — can help young people build skills outside of formal education.

As society moves towards a more automated age, we desperately need other ways to keep our skills fresh, and gather new areas of expertise.

Or we’ll be left in the dust, strapped to a paradigm that puts tests on a pedestal and leaves critical thinking by the wayside.

When we step outside the formal educational system, we often thrive

Did you know that two out of three tech-workers are actually self taught? And yet we still put an emphasis on “butts in seats, eyes to the front” pedagogy.

We need to start thinking about how to teach so that others can understand, and that might take us down a road less traveled than otherwise anticipated.

I hope that upon reading this article, you’ll understand the breadth and weight of what it means to actually learn. And see yourself in these words.

Video games have matured, and so has our society. Graphics have become prettier, stories have become richer, and more involved.

With the growth of the video game market, we have also seen the appearance of “Gamification” in many industries; education being on the forefront.

We’ve started to realize that, just as people enjoy books and movies and physical media, people enjoy gaming too. And they can use it for more than just exploring fantasy worlds and raiding castles.

Why shouldn’t such a large industry be used for bettering the world?

Learning Where You Least Expect It

Video games are the bread and butter of children’s entertainment. It’s a pastime that encourages teamwork, social skills, and depending on the genre, a wealth of knowledge too.

A common example of the educational value video games offer is core English skills.

This ESL classroom case study by the Kanda University of International Studies created by Jared R. Baierschmidt has an extensive wealth of information on the topic of learning through gaming.

Baierschmidt created and employed a unique English As a Second Language course with a focus on teaching through gaming and play.

He writes:

In terms of the activities themselves, 39% of respondents found the cooperative multiplayer activity to be most useful to their studies. Reasons given included the fact that learners were able to use a variety of language skills during the activity and that the activity encouraged them to communicate actively with their partner.

This means that multiplayer, cooperative games can help students learn English as a second language through context, play, and social interactions.

We need to start examining how we engage with and adopt information. So far, it seems incredibly successful, at least when it comes to Baierschmidt’s study.

Baierschmidt also writes:

According to the surveys, 90% of respondents plan to continue to use digital games for language learning even after the completion of the [ESL] course.

Even though study into how gaming helps people learn a second language is still so new, this research is a great step in the right direction when it comes to understanding the impact and intersection between playing and learning.

Improving Concentration and Focus

Minecraft has proven an incredible outlet for people with autism, or people with ADHD. This game helps nurture creativity and provides a structured, calming environment for neurotypical and neuroatypical people alike.

This article written by Jamie Martin explains how Minecraft is calming for their child, who has ADHD. As an educator, I know just how difficult it is when students with ADHD are asked to sit and perform a task that diverges from their neuroatypical mindset or learning style.

They want to learn, they want to engage, and when they can’t it’s upsetting for them.

If Minecraft has the capacity to help children hyperfocus, we should understand and employ similar techniques for future educational technologies.

There’s even a Minecraft server created specifically for people with autism.

Not only can gaming help change education, it can give people a safe space to be themselves and learn game dynamics in the way they learn best.

Down Time is Productive

The New York Institute of Play has, since opening in 2007, used video game principles to teach and guide kids in a multitude of disciplines. Turns out breaking tasks down into quests and rewarding successes (just like video games do) is a good idea.

Cosmetics, assets to build their own games, and a great deal of support and encouragement from the staff and facility all serve as incentives for good work.

Gamifying education works. Period.

Teaching How to Learn from Failure

By encouraging students to view failure as a chance to learn, rather than a sign of something lacking with the student, they succeed.

It’s this principle of “failure is only a setback, not a disaster” that allows kids to thrive and actually enjoy learning and growing, much like a video game character progresses in their journey.

There seems to be a prevailing opinion that education isn’t compatible with fun, and happiness should take a back seat when placed in the same sphere as learning. But why?

Education should be as effective as possible at teaching, guiding, and nurturing young people, even if that means changing the system. Shocking, right? Even on the sidelines, video games can still provide great chances to educate.

A Lesson in History

Age of Empires, the cult classic RTS, ended up teaching a whole generation of gamers that the Phoenicians were a thing. The gameplay itself even provided a rudimentary layout of the various historical periods.

As someone who didn’t really learn very much in history class, I owe a lot of my understanding of history from gaming (and anime, but that’s an article for another time).

Learning history while you play a game sounds WAY better than sitting in history class for 6 months and coming away with no retained knowledge.

As a teacher, and a lifelong student, I know this is what happens. Kids check out the minute something is no longer engaging. After 15 minutes of lecture, their brains are out like a light.

There’s even science to back it up.

Revolutionizing Learning

In order to push education, further along, we need to teach people in ways they can learn. And learning through play is an amazing way to get kids invested in knowledge, their future, and scholastic topics.

Ask anyone about what they’ve learned from a video game, and they’ll tell you without hesitation. Ask someone what they learned in 5th-grade physics, and you’ll likely just get a blank look.

By educating through accessible, entertaining mediums and prioritizing teaching techniques that actually work, video game designers and educators alike can and will find unimaginable success in teaching future (and current) generations.

We’re about to see the most radical shift in education since the invention of writing, and I absolutely can’t wait.

Originally published at blog.gamersensei.com on June 28, 2018.

Special thanks to Renato P. dos Santos for his continued support.

Kira Leigh is a writer, gamer and game enthusiast, digital creative, and small business owner.

Send her a line or catch her on LinkedIn if you want to work with her.

Or join her on Discord like the giant nerd you are: windows95toasteroven#3745