Learning through positive games is one of the next big things in education.
But it requires a change in mindset of what we envision games to be. It's not what we see our kids (or other kids) doing every day in front of their computers in League of Legends, or in Gameshops.
The main objective of game based learning is to create a balance between gameplay and knowledge. Learners get opportunities to apply knowledge as well as understanding of the subject content within a realistic and meaningful context.
Within any game based environment, learners work towards a goal, chose actions and also experience the consequences when moving through each game. This way, learners can make mistakes in a risk-free environment with the aid of experimentation, active learning and get a chance to practice appropriate ways to do things.
Through this risk-free environment, and because games are by nature "more engaging", the responsibility and ownership of learning tend to go back to the learning himself.
The game-based learning approach likewise offers a dynamic way through which learners can be more engaged and motivated by making learning fun and purposeful.
- The fun element of game-based learning can also help to minimize stress as well as anxiety which can affect learning negatively. Traditional education, especially in Asia, is based on memory of answers. This being "task based" then "experience based" becomes a stress-filled exercise.
- Games likewise provide a life-enhancing experience for learners. Learners often remember the journey they take to complete games. If learners can associate such a journey with life-enhancing topics, it can revolutionize the routinized ways of learning.
- Playing games requires learners to think creatively and solve various problems so as to progress. This type of progression-based learning is associated with higher order thinking skills. It also fosters independent learning as the learner makes his own judgement on how to progress his journey.
Learning through positive games, therefore becomes a journey.
Cheryl Bodnar, Assistant Professor of Experiential Engineering Education at Rowam University and VentureWell Faculty Grant recipient, has been advocating for the implementation of game based learning. Gamification became a go-to pedagogy for Bodnar when she observed that students quickly engaged in game-based learning. They were hooked on the topics while wanting to master the game.
Her classroom successes were supported by literatures which state that people that experience these kinds of authentic learning experiences would retain the information for longer period of time.
To prove these further, an exercise was done to change a Senior course from lecture-based to game-based. This was done by Clemson University professor Bre Przestrzelski and Eric Walker with VentureWell Faculty Grant recipient John Desjardins.
The result: Students from the game based course had more positive skills.
To deep dive deeper on what could be contributing factors to a successful game-based learning curriculum:
1. Game Design and importantly Narrative Design
The educators should not feel pressure to reinvent the wheel when it comes to game-based learning for the classroom. What makes a game fun is game-design. Whilst educators have a clear understanding of learning objectives, they don’t necessarily know what makes a game successful. That’s the main reason why games they create can sometimes feel like work rather than fun.
Game-Design is an art on it's own and people have created careers out of such a skill. One aspect of game design that needs to be considered is narrative design.
The role of a narrative designer is to iterate on the user-journey with compelling story-telling elements, and ensure the production matches on user needs. And the first step is the self-awareness that a completely different skill is needed for the educator.
Whilst learning a completely new skill is daunting, it is essential to be aware that narrative design is something the educator should already be a native skill he has.
The educator is probably already adopting stories in the way he conducts his class today. That is part of narrative design.
However there are ways to save time here.
One approach is partnering with professional game designers when incorporating games into a course. Building partnerships with professionals game designers would also help and designers are typically ready to help. Some of the examples of educational game developers include MIT’s Serious Games Lab, Kurt Squire, Schell Games, and Carnegie Mellon’s Simon Initiative.
Also, if an educator is well experienced about integrating games, it is possible to refer to a game that exists. A starter kit which is highly recommended is Innovation and Entrepreneurship Games Toolkit.
However although anyone has the ability to be a storyteller, it is critical to know the goal needs to fit in an overall learning objectives that is wide enough. The end reward must be wide enough to entice the user to continue playing otherwise he may not be incentivized to continue.
2. Consider Learning Objectives While Developing Game-Based Curriculum
To design learning objectives, it is key to understand the specific course outcome. And one approach is to start from micro-level based on immediate needs. Bodnar always considers the learning objectives when incorporating games into the curriculum. The professors from Clemson used a Design Canvas to identify learning objectives or key takeaways from each lecture. Walker said these are the points where the instructor might say if you remember one thing from today, this would be it.
Walker likewise suggests the use of games as a medium to discreetly combine difficult course content with opportunities to practice different skills in a low-stakes, engaging environment. Walker likewise state that games can trick students into learning while they engage with the materials. The students would benefit from experiencing an interactive classroom in which they actually learn material rather than memorizing it for an examination.
However it is also important to know that if a student is "tricked" into learning, the result although good for the short term, it may not be beneficial in the long term. It needs to be combined with a future value. In behavioral economics prospect theory is considered as a way to nudge a person's behavior. Nobel Prize Winner Richard Thaler, describes in this post that people could make decisions based on changes in wealth. In the classroom, this could be interpreted as growth in a career success.
To do this however, the eco-system of learning needs to be expanded as no one skill can guarantee career success.
3. Use Game-Based Learning to Boost Students’ Skills in Other Areas
Video Games offer a very compelling experience for gamers based on emphasis on exploration and journey. By opening up a vast open-world for users to explore and decide on their path, gamers go through a "safe-environment" to make decisions which they think they have full control over. This is described as choice architecture in behavioral economics.
This can be adopted into an learning eco-system that allows learners to browse different paths they can take and take a decision on it. Whilst this choice architecture is adopted in traditional e-learning applications, they are often without an immersive experience, and missing the "open-world" feeling that game-based applications have.
Therefore it is important for the end goal of game-based learning to give the look and feel of an open-world that crosses boundaries so that learners can feel that it is a life-long journey. An example of how this is adopted is in Soqqle's open-world digi-space product which sets learners into a digital world to interact with pre-defined heros with topics.
Game-based learning can also offer students the opportunity to learn or hone critical soft skills, which can be difficult to develop in the context of an engineering class.
A particular favorite of Bodnar’s is the game ROYGBIV. This game would help students to work on the most essential soft skills such as oral communication and collaboration. Such games can enhance skills for entrepreneurship and 21st century skills such as perseverance, teamwork, communication as well as leadership. These are all skills especially important for the workforce in the upcoming industry 4.0 industries.
4. Plan When and How to Integrate a Game into the Classroom
It is important to consider the overall macro-design of the game-structure for implementation. An overall eco-system could include external parties and reward incentives that multiple participants could be a part of. These would drive higher adoption and engagement levels with learners. Such a plan could however may not be the initiative of the school itself but an eco-system provider like Soqqle.
It is also very important for consistency where macro-design is matched with micro-design for games and learning objectives. It is essential to think about when and how to integrate games into each course so as to meet specific learning objectives.
For instance, Bodnar sometimes introduces a game as an icebreaker to lead in to a specific subject without sharing topic which are specific with the students, the topic is only revealed in a debrief. She likewise incorporates a game in the middle of the class to break things up and reinforce learning which has already occurred on a particular topic.
Sometimes, Walker and Przestrzelski faced the challenge of keeping several students engaged in large classrooms. So as to determine the appropriate time to incorporate a game-intensive lesson into the class, the professors usually meet on weekly basis so as to address potential issues which may come up during the game play.
The weekly meetups allowed the professors to brainstorm class facilitation plans and also keep the students on track.
5. Debrief and Digitalization
Successful game-based courses are often the result of an iterative design process. Such feedback and iterations should also ideally be regular, micro-based and digitalized. (This is the basis of machine learning). Feedback mechanisms can then be fed back into incentives for a loop that can incentive improvements for learners to take action.
A key component of the process is the structure for receiving feedback. One way is an offline debrief with students and faculty. This helps instructors to hear how the students benefitted from the experience. These feedback can then be documented and used as an input for the next game for continued monitoring.
A digitalized platform could also semi-automate the process where learners, and facilitators could insert goals, objectives and the reward system. In some cases, new technologies like Blockchain and tokenization could introduce a new manner of incentives as a reward-based game.
Game-Based learning could be the next big thing in learning. But its really the adoption, and interjunction of the latest in behavioral economics, behavioral science and technology that makes a key difference. This is the rise of EduTainment in the industries.
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