The next #LTHEchat on Wednesday 13th June 8-9pm (BST) will be hosted by Matthew Crossley @mattycrossley on ‘Using Games for Learning’.
I think it is fair to say that in 2018 there is significant competition for the attention of our learners. With entertainment on tap and a raft of complex life pressures HE learners constantly juggle, it is fair to say that vying for attention can be tricky, at best. The twinned problem of tackling learner engagement, and challenge of developing activities that are enlightening and entertaining is complex, and curious, and attitudes towards both are beautifully diverse.
There’s an argument that we can engage learners by entering the complex space of fun. Designing learning activities using practice from the entertainment industry – games, for example – helps us to ensure that we have sessions which learners want to participate in. Why not go a step further? Why not use games as objects, tools, or vehicles for education?
Introducing games for education is not new. We have been using analogue (or tabletop) and digital games to engage learners for decades. I remember in primary school, learning about wildlife (at least, I think that was the message) using a wonderful game about badgers – I’ve never managed to find out what it’s called, so if you know, please tell me.
However, the recent rise in the popularity of analogue games, and popular digital games producing education-specific variants (such as Minecraft: Educational Edition, Assassin’s Creed: Discovery Tour and Cities: Skylines), suggests that with some careful decision making and practice, we can usher in a golden age of using games for learning.
So, what are the next steps? First, we need to pick through our attitudes towards the use of games in learning. We need to analyse the concept with the appropriate lenses. Of course, we can’t (and perhaps shouldn’t?) adopt games for learning everywhere, because then we run the risk of losing the magic, and we need a variety of different activities and learning types to keep our learners engaged and enthused.
However, there’s scope for us to make more use of games in educational spaces. But we also need to consider the risks, and challenges:
- Games are usually (though not always) competitive, and we need to consider carefully the role competition plays in education (particularly, where it may introduce/exacerbate gender differences – e.g. Niederle, 2010)
- There’s a difficulty in balancing education versus entertainment – and I say this with a game designer/developer hat on (and an educator hat perched neatly on top, like a delicious hat burger). It is often the case that the desire to share an educational message competes with the entertainment aspect, though the same can be said moving in the other direction. We, as facilitators, need to ensure that the learning is taking place instead of relying on games to do it for us.
- Should education be fun? Do we need to add extrinsic motivation when our learners should be intrinsically motivated? We face complex challenges that are not new. Timetabled sessions suffer from non-attendance, though the reasons are complex and multi-faceted.
I hope you’d agree, that the use of games in learning provides a potentially very powerful tool to increase learner engagement. While there are some deadly traps, the more we practice, and the more we share our practice, the better we will get at avoiding those pitfalls. This is, after all, the very way we master playing games, is it not?
Matthew Crossley @mattycrossley is a lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, where he is Course Leader for Games Design and Development, and Assistant Programme Leader for the Computing and Digital Technology Network. He primarily teaches aspects of game design relating to player motivation and engagement, and game balancing, but also teaches game development, and has research interests in modelling and simulation, particularly of behaviours, and nature-inspired computing and its myriad applications to games design and development.