Games based learning has many advocates; not least The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, who have just invested $20 million into innovative learning technologies, including games-based learning. The technology is not totally new, indeed the gaming ideas were seeping onto computer-based training and e-learning back in the 1990s. So, what has held back widespread adoption?
Is it the name itself? Games-based learning conjures up visions of fun and frivolity, not the serious task of learning. But, as it happens, educators are picking up on the motivational aspect of games and are increasingly using web based puzzle games in the classroom and for revision. These puzzle games tend tobe used as an add-on and, as yet, the ultimate inclusion of games as the lesson anchor is yet to be widely adopted.
Is it that technology has lagged behind designers’ and teachers’ aspirations? Again this seems unlikely given that any computer bought in the last five years would run most games. Although, using the latest 3D gaming engines in computer based learning products destined for typical classrooms is probably not a wise technological choice.
Is it that games-based learning isn’t always created from the perspective of the learner and the educator? As bizarre as it might seem, in a lot of cases, technology is trumping learning and entertainment products are simply being parachuted into the classroom. While there has been some success with this approach, games-based learning developers need to create products that are fit for purpose, else the learning approach will rely on those passionate educators who are willing to hack games into their teaching.
Back to Basics
Developers and educators should get back to basics. If we were buying a car, we might consider whether the car looks nice and suits our needs. We might think about how we are going to use the car. We might worry about support from the dealership. We might think about the long-term and wider outcomes, such as the environment and whether we would be better off using public transport. And finally, we would be concerned about the cost. These five factors hold true for games-based learning and they are design, delivery (usage), technology and support, outcomes, and cost.
- Is the game fit for purpose offering a relevant context and activities?
- Is the game pitched right in terms of complexity and age level?
- Does the game support multiple learning styles?
Delivery (usage) considerations
- Is the game focused on learning supporting collaboration, conversations, and teacher-led interventions and scaffolding?
- Does the game provide a challenge that generates learning flow?
- Can the game fit into a standard lesson, but also be used for events / term topics?
Technology and support considerations
- Will the game work on classroom computers?
- Is support provided in the game and via communities /guides / resources?
- Will the game engage the pupils, including reluctant learners?
- Will the game solve problems that traditional learning finds difficult?
- Is the game linked to the curriculum and does it support assessment?
- Will the game improve generic and employability skills?
- Is there enough money in the budget, not forgetting hidden costs such as consoles and multiple licences?
- Does the game offer value for money?
Call to Action
Games-based learning offers powerful benefits, but if educators are to take a leap of faith, then games-based learning developers need to meet them halfway. Games need to work in classroom environments and support standard teaching practices. Developers cannot expect decades of good teaching practice to be thrown away. To this end, games-based learning needs to support the evolution of teaching and not require a revolution. Only then will it be time to let the games begin.