New study discourages an educational revolution based on gaming, but does see possibilities

Today Apple announced new possibilities in their mobile devices specifically aimed at education. Also today a new study by Mayer looks at another relation between technology and education: gaming and the results are mixed: don’t expect a revolution, but the different studies surveyed do offer many promising possibilities.

From the press release:

Game advocates are calling for a sweeping transformation of conventional education to replace traditional curricula with game-based instruction. But what do researchers have to say about this idea and what is the role of policymakers? A new study out today discourages an educational revolution based on gaming and encourages adding promising features to games in schools including heightened use of explanative feedback in games and relevant pregame activities. This article is part of a new issue of Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences (PIBBS), a Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences (FABBS) journal published by SAGE.

Researcher Richard E. Mayer surveyed research on game features that improve learning. He found five game features that substantially improve student performance including:

  • Putting words in conversational style rather than formal style
  • Putting words in spoken form rather than printed form
  • Adding prompts to explain key points in the game
  • Adding advice or explanations at key points in the game
  • Adding pregame activities that describe key components of the game

Mayer also discussed the extent that gaming improves cognitive skills. He found two types of games that lead to substantial improvements in specific cognitive skills: first person shooter games and spatial puzzle games (such as Tetris). However, he did not find substantial evidence that any other games improve cognitive skills nor that any games improve reasoning or memory skills.

“Overall, cognitive consequences research does not support claims for broad transfer of game playing to performance on cognitive skill tests,” Mayer wrote. “That is, no sufficient evidence supports the claim that playing computer games can improve one’s mind in general.”

However, Mayer did find that when teaching science, game can be more effective teaching tool than traditional media such as books and slideshow presentations.

Mayer discussed the implications of this research for policymakers, claiming that there is a place for small games that focus on well-specified learning objectives, become more challenging as students learn, and fit within existing educational programs to supplement, complement, and/or extend traditional instruction rather than replace it. He also cautioned against supporting video games simply because students like them as liking does not necessarily translate into learning.

“The major policy implication of this review of research on games for learning is that it is premature to call for a major overhaul of schools based on computer games: The research certainly does not warrant extensive replacement of current educational practices with practices based on computer games,” Mayer concluded.

Abstract of the study:

Game advocates call for replacing conventional schooling with educational activities based on computer games. These claims were examined by reviewing published research on games for learning and then drawing policy implications. Value-added research shows that the most promising features of games use conversational language, put words in spoken form, add prompts to explain, add advice or explanations, and add relevant pregame activities. Cognitive consequences research shows that first-person shooter games improve perceptual attention skills. Media comparison research shows that games are more effective than conventional media for science learning. However, an educational revolution based on gaming is not indicated. Policy implications are to use games for targeted learning objectives, align games with classroom activities, avoid confusing liking with learning, and use games to adapt activities to maintain challenge. Research evidence informs decisions about educational games.

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