What makes a great game-based learning platform? Some essential things to look for when choosing the right resource for your teaching.
Best served in lessons and at home. Feeds all…
There are a select and crucial set of common threads that tie together the game-based platforms which create effective and impactful learning environments for students, and function above and beyond their inherently entertaining components. Not to devalue the essential role this entertainment-value holds. However, the whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts.
A distinction needs to be made between any stimulating and engaging game, and one that lends itself to the greater acquisition of curriculum aligned knowledge and practices. There’s no doubt ‘Angry Birds’ is stimulating and addictive. I talk from personal experience here. And although I’m sure aids in the fine-tuning of cognitive functioning, reaction speed, perhaps problem solving or lateral thinking— is this still a well-designed digital tool for learning? Definitely not.
I would even argue that any incidental learning mechanisms have been manifested as a means of creating an addictive game, and not vice versa. Whereas the clever game design of a game-based learning platform comes out a desire to create effective learning; an intrinsic element to why games are so brilliant at captivating their audience is in part due to their puzzle solving elements, and are not at odds with learning.
To reiterate, the effective transference of curriculum imbibed knowledge must form the core of any game-based digital learning platform, around which fall the trappings of stimulating and addictive game characteristics, similar to those you might find in a game like Angry Birds. Without this criterion, a distinction can’t be drawn between a game that leads to improved knowledge and practices within a subject, and, well, Sudoku.
The Essential Ingredients:
Curriculum Aligned (Designed Around Learning Outcomes)
As I touched on, a game that is firmly rooted within the subject curriculum is crucial for its effective implementation within a teaching plan. A system of test and reward is unsophisticated and doesn’t adapt to a child’s learning process. That is, answer the question correctly and then play a game as reward. If anything, this simply sustains traditional pedagogy by manipulating a young student’s natural desire to learn through play. A true game-based learning platform makes the game the question and answer, and compliments an increasingly common leaning among young students, to game! Suffice to say, a game-based learning platform must address the fundamentals of the specified curriculum, ideally, across a wide-spanning age group with a globalized variety of curricula.
So much more needs to fall under the roof of an effective game-based learning platform however, than the basic criteria of seamlessly integrated learning content. Supplying a rich library of well researched content is one thing, but embedding that content into an intelligently crafted digital pedagogy and teaching tool, is another. Digital games and quizzes need to transfer knowledge and skills, build conceptual understanding, and improve procedural fluency. They must be adaptable and empowering. These aims— the promotion of conceptual understanding and the acquisition of knowledge— need to underpin every aspect of a game-based learning platform. Otherwise all this clever theory will amount to nothing if students are not actually learning or improving. A digital teaching platform of clever design will possess constructivist foundations that allow students to develop knowledge intuitively, as opposed to being forced to memorize. They must be adaptive in nature and hold students whose knowledge needs building on at the same level, and allowing for those who need a challenge to attack more advanced game activities.
Engaging, Empowering & Motivating
Game-based learning resources need to be highly engaging, empowering and motivating. Not breaking all ties with their distant cousin Angry Birds, a game-based learning platform should absolutely be highly addictive. A child that can’t stop playing a game which teaches them Algebra, for example, can never be a bad thing. When a game is fun and challenging, students welcome productive struggle. In this way, the initial gaming attraction for kids will give way to authentic intrinsic motivation. The motivational component must come from a constant, well-weighted, clearly displayed, and encouraging stream of feedback on a student’s performance. This aspect of a game-based learning platform supports their understanding and confidence, whilst also bearing the load for teachers, who know the students are being encouraged to keep learning when they might be struggling on a task. The student performance data produced by a game-based learning platform— which teachers can be constantly reviewing throughout the task— creates room for the greater spread, and more individualized allocation, of their teaching time. As well as a more honed in teaching plan for after the tasks, or for future lessons and homework.
Further support for the teacher comes from custom built mechanisms. Dashboards are often built-in, displaying top student performances in the class, updated in real time. A well-designed class management system, analytics and content previews add more strings to a teacher’s bow.
These supportive tools allow a teacher to take their finger off the fast-forward button, for fear of falling behind their teaching plan, and readdress where there may be gaps in knowledge within the class. Room is created for individualized 1:1 support while the class works on tasks in a self-taught environment— self-taught but guided by the teacher’s set assignments, of course. Through adaptive activities, a game-based learning platform can suspend a learner within their zone of proximal understanding by keeping them in their own sweet spot for learning.
In this way the one-size-fits-all criteria which a traditional class setting will inevitably have to enforce is removed. Students struggling with a subject are afforded more time to repeat the exercise until they have gained sufficient knowledge. Those students who excel will quickly move through the exercises and will be working on tasks which deepen their understanding. In this way, learning through game-based learning platforms breaks up the class from a homogenous block with a set standard and pace of learning, and personalizes the process to adhere to the individual learning needs of each student!
Game-based learning platforms enable students to repeat math exercises for as many times as it takes, within an environment free from any timescale, peer judgement, or teaching pressure. Allowing lessons to become places of interaction and fun, as the teaching process is flipped. Data created from the student activity shows the teacher which students are struggling, but more importantly, why. Data that highlights how many times they are attempting activities, how long they are spending on each attempt, which areas they are exploring on their own, and more.
It’s all well and good talking about the necessary components for an effective game-based learning platform, but a digital teaching platform is only as good as the teaching plan.
Game-based learning isn’t the be all and end all of a vision for the future of teaching, but rather, a very useful pedagogical tool teachers can utilize to invigorate a demoralized classroom. A classroom that might, at times, fall unresponsive to traditional pedagogy. Teachers know that students need alternative methods to build and consolidate understanding when traditional pedagogy fails. Game-based learning is perfect within a blended learning environment, which mixes the old with the new, and offers up one solution for this common challenge.
A game-based learning platform should allow teachers to create classes, add students, set class assignments, homework, and display content to the whole class. Through this framework, teachers should also be able to monitor progress while their class attempts targeted subject activities. Data that is accessible from hand-held devices allows teachers to monitor the whole class while circulating to address individual student needs. Competition can also be encouraged amongst students in class, with live leaderboards as a feature of many game-based learning platforms.
Another fantastic use of game-based learning is as a homework replacement or supplement. The great advantage of a digital platform which actively teaches and reinforces the learner’s knowledge, is that is can be used outside of the classroom. With included hints and instructions, a student can learn on their own using game-based learning. Playable on computers and hand-held devices, it makes for a system of learning which can be taken advantage of at any time or place by a student. So not only can game-based learning be used by the teacher to encourage children to learn outside the classroom, it also encourages them itself to explore and practice autonomously.
A smart game-based learning resource reconfigures meaningful learning content through digital games, to catalyze the learning process of students, pushing them to reach a more sophisticated level of understanding. Or rather, the gamification of a subject motivates students through common elements of casual games— the incentive to beating your personal best, leader-boards, making meaning as you progress in the environment. These elements drive students’ genuine effort resulting in firmly held understanding.
Much like any good game, a strong target structure and reward system, set into a fun and engaging context, with infinite attempts available, will encourage students to strive to achieve increasingly more as learning goals are promoted as a part of the play. The fun, interactive and competitive nature of gamified learning platform will captivate the attention of students and keep them practicing and learning without realizing it.