Student engagement is harder to maintain than ever before, especially amongst the math and science subjects. Is game-based learning the answer 21st century teaching has been searching for? It might just be.
The basic premise of how game-based learning creates an effective learning environment rests on a few fundamental human principles. We are naturally curious and our brains are programmed to solve puzzles. When you combine this with a generation of young people who socialize and view entertainment through digitalized glasses, you are left with the perfect vector for delivering new information. A game provides a set of unexpected, interactive experiences which actively engage and motivate us to learn new things as we strive to overcome the challenge of how to figure out and navigate a new environment, system or puzzle. This desire to complete a level or outsmart the ‘boss’ becomes the primary objective and goal, offering a way of captivating students to the extent that they will spend hours learning the coalesced subject matter with long-lasting effect. A digital game provides these experiences at any time or place, and amongst an infinitely large community of participants. A community which stretches beyond national boarders, language barriers, age, gender, social status and race— one of the major marvels of the technology bound modern age. A marvel we should be hijacking to supercharge the learning of students.
Through game-based learning you can work towards a personal target in a risk-free setting. A setting in which you are allowed to make mistakes and experiment, whilst actively practicing and learning the right way to overcome the game’s challenges— the right way to answer a math question perhaps. Unlike its traditional counterpart of passive teaching, which drills students with examples and relies on their ability to remember and put into practice what they have been told, game-based learning keeps the participant highly engaged whilst they repeatedly (because games allow for students to re-enact the same set of circumstances, or situations, multiple times) put into practice the topic being taught.
The digital generation which accounts for most students today cannot be expected to respond well to traditional lecture and tutorial based teaching approaches. They are however, accustomed to and comfortable with videogames, and as such, game-based learning. This fulfils a major category for effective learning—motivation. The scores and feedback provided by games provides another facet of motivation which often remains at an unsatisfactory level within the classroom. The reason for this is simply that the teacher can’t possibly be expected to provide specifically tailored feedback for each individual student, regarding their performance on a class exercise. This leaves gaps in the teacher’s knowledge of what areas need to be worked on with students.
Learning will always be a very personal process, varied from one student to the next. However, passive teaching works on a group basis, resulting in the faster students quickly becoming bored and the slower students falling behind, with limited time available to provide for the needs of each. The focus is often on absorbing information relayed by the teacher, with little opportunity to apply it, and a small window for individualized, motivating feedback. Game-based learning affords the chance to tailor the learning experience to each student; allowing for a learner to advance if their knowledge surpasses that of the game at hand, or have more time working on an area of understanding if they are not ready to move on. It further allows for a constant and highly motivating level of feedback. These scores, reports and alerts encourage students to continue to work towards their goal of completing the game, which in effect is the goal of learning the subject. In contrast, traditional teaching suspends each student along a slow moving medial range of syllabus, which can never stay in one place for too long if the teacher is to keep the teaching objectives on schedule.
We want to move on from the outdated view that some kids just can’t do math, and help teachers invigorate, excite and engage with kids. Subject-focused games have the ability to engage with this new audience and play on their already engrained affinity for game-based learning. Real and significant impact can take place on the learning habits of future students once you find a way to tap into their digitalized view of the world.