What Are Learning Games

Learning Games EXPO, Viborg, Denmark.

Learning can be immensely rewarding. As a child you may have read a Dr. Seuss book called I Can Read With My Eyes Shut where you were told, “The more you learn, the more you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Although we are supposed to regard learning as a joy, it often doesn’t feel that way. There is a lot of information that we need to digest and remember because we are required to do so for school or work.

However, these seemingly uphill challenges can be overcome with learning games. Essentially, these are games that have been designed to optimize the acquisition of information or skills.

With such tools, it is possible to achieve high levels of mastery without the normal feelings of resistance and uphill struggle that we often face in classroom settings and assigned course work.

Another perspective on the question of what are learning games  is that they demonstrate new ways of understanding our own innate aptitudes and how we best learn.

New Perspectives On Intelligence

Researchers are redefining what it means to be smart and how our brains are wired to learn.

The Theory of Multiple Intelligences

The Theory of Multiple Intelligences was developed in 1983  by a psychologist and professor of neuroscience at Harvard University named Howard Gardner.

Whereas most schools emphasize linguistic and mathematical/logical aptitudes, his framework regards intelligence as being multifaceted to include other areas of proficiencies such as:

  • musical intelligence – ability to create new music due to a sensitivity to sound, pitch, rhythm and tones
  • visual spatial intelligence – ability to visualize and use spatial judgment
  • kinesthetic (bodily) intelligence- ability to control movement and train responses through a sense of timing and goals
  • intrapersonal intelligence – ability to introspect to understand ones own emotions, states of being, sense of self in order to create new reactions to external circumstances
  • interpersonal intelligence – ability to relate to others and create harmonious relationships, often within a cooperative group context
  • naturalistic intelligence – ability to relate and communicate information naturally within one’s own surroundings
  • existential intelligence – ability to understand a deeper metaphysical or spiritual level of existence.

These abilities are often exhibited by exceptional individuals whose talents often lie beyond the skills that are esteemed by formal education.

However, it should be noted that most people carry all of these proficiencies to some degree. They must be given opportunities to develop them further.

Multisensory Learning

Researchers are also acknowledging the concept of multisensory learning. We are naturally predisposed to taking in information through multiple forms of sensory input. Life presents us with different types of stimuli such as sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. And we are designed to filter what is relevant and make decisions on this input to best navigate our world.

Information that fits our preferred learning modalities is more  likely to be understood, remembered and even utilized to a greater extent compared to knowledge that is communicated through just sight (e.g. textbook material) or sound (e.g. regular lecture).

Games and The New Paradigms of Learning and Intelligence

Here are some new perspectives for those who are just starting to ask, what are learning games and are they really beneficial?

Learning games can be digital or non digital. They allow individuals to interact with information, instead of passively absorbing it.  They engage multiple senses at the same time often through a combination of sight, sound and touch. And this aligns with how we naturally like to learn.

Players are typically encouraged to employ more than one type of intelligence to achieve the objectives of the game.

Well designed learning games motivate persistence. And they help optimize the way we take in new information by using mechanisms that relate to our core drives. Again, the Octalysis model lists these as:

1. Epic meaning and calling

2. Accomplishment

3. Empowerment

4. Social pressure

5. Unpredictability

6. Scarcity

7. Avoidance

8. Ownership

What Are Learning Games For?

Learning games can be played by anyone. But they can make life much easier for those who need to fulfill specific subject requirements. This would include course objectives for:

1) Kids and young adults in school

2) Employees who are trying to get through training material

Learning Games For Kids

For children, there are games for developing mastery in areas such as:

  • phonics
  • reading comprehension
  • languages
  • arithmetic
  • algebra
  • personal money management
  • computer programming

The concept of gamified schools is now on the rise. For example, Game Desk is an organization that is devoted to changing the way students learn. They have created a “next generation” educational model that embraces the use of games.

Playmaker was developed by Game Desk  as new school model that is based on playing, making, discovery and inquiry and a curriculum driven by the individual interests of students. These initiatives are funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Other sponsors include: AT&T, USC and the National Academy of Sciences.

Quest 2 Learn is an actual school that incorporates games in its curriculum to include systems of quests, boss levels and other familiar aspects of gamification.

Learning Games For Adults 

Talent development specialists at enterprise level companies are now becoming interested in using games to expedite training and the mastery of new information and skills.  Examples of areas that might benefit from these types of programs include:

  • customer relations
  • sales
  • negotiations

A study was conducted by the University of Colorado Denver Business School to learn about the effects of video games on employee learning. This research was conducted by Traci Sitzmann, an assistant professor of management.

The study examined 65 cases and data of learning performance from 6476 trainees. The effect of using video games was compared to other forms of informational presentation. Video games showed to be a superior learning tool according to the following dimensions of mastery:

  • 11% higher in factual knowledge
  • 14% higher in the performance of skills
  • 9% higher in retention

Is It Possible To Become Overly Reliant On Learning Games?

The answer to the question of what are learning games for may elicit some criticism.

Some feel that using gamification for learning purposes is unnecessary and excessive.  Their perspective is that learning is not always going to be fun. Therefore individuals should not constantly depend on the availability of games.

My response to this is that the purpose of using games for learning is to help communicate information in a more meaningful way.

Class lectures and textbook assignments are limited in how well they can convey deeper levels of information. Students often rely on rote memorization to get through their courses. And this information is quickly forgotten.

Games are simply additional tools to offer an additional dimension to the process of understanding and remembering information.

Learning games illustrate that information can be experienced differently depending on how it is presented. And students can use this takeaway to leverage their personal creativity to be proactive and create their own sense of relevancy, meaning and beauty in every learning opportunity.

(Thanks to Christine Yee for tremendously helping me on this post)

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