What is the Value of Games in E-Learning?

I was raised in a household where video games were not allowed. My mother believed they were a waste of time, had no value, and – worse – could have negative effects. While she was right about the idea that video games CAN have negative effects (as researchers have shown that violent videogames can alter brain function), games can have value. We have created games that present value in e-learning courses by using them to teach content and test knowledge. And, now I have a 7-year-old who wants to play video games – just because! (Can you believe it?) So, I’ve done some research and believe I would be doing him a disservice if I didn’t let him play Angry Birds at least every now-and-then (sorry, Mom).

Let’s take a look at who is gaming. Gamers aren’t just teenagers! They are often the professionals we are creating e-learning interactions for. The average gamer is 34 years old, and has been playing electronic games for 12 years – and often up to 18 hours a week. And, many of them are benefitting from the experience!

While research continues and we there are still unanswered questions about games and their effects, a growing body of data from research suggests that digital games can positively alter players’ attitudes and behavior. They have also been found to increase:

  • Creativity.
  • Decision-making.
  • Perception.
  • Hand-eye coordination.
  • Mental manipulation of 3D objects.

Lumosity claims that their suite of games, designed by neuroscientists, can help improve core cognitive functions (memory, problem solving, attention, speed, and flexibility) to help people:

  • Think more quickly.
  • Increase intelligence.
  • Solve tougher problems.
  • Enhance memory.
  • Feel more confident.
  • Boost creativity.

I recently read a press release about a video game that has been shown to increase motivation – something I think is so important and sometimes difficult in online training. HopeLab and Stanford University announced data showing that Re-Mission™, a video game about killing cancer in the body, strongly activates brain circuits involved in positive motivation. I can’t explain everything in the study or how it works in the brain circuits in this blog, but I strongly suggest you read the press release. The full manual of research is available from PLoS ONE, as well, if you want to see the full study. (By the way, if you or someone you know is battling cancer and you would like to download a copy of Re-Mission, it is available for download at www.re-mission.net.) This game and the research surrounding it is making me rethink gaming – and how I can use gaming to educate others.

While I may be showing my age (or upbringing?) by not calling myself a gamer, I do enjoy what I call “brain break” games. These games in my definition have no true educational value. By this I mean that there is no true educational content or testing. Education games, on the other hand might test a concept. So, an education game might be a crossword puzzle that asks a learner to identify a word based on a definition or a tic-tac-toe game where the learner answers a question to get their green check. My “brain break” games aren’t teaching or testing a concept and I consider them fun and relaxing (though one could argue that Angry Birds does teach angles and velocity, I don’t think it was created to teach those concepts). I have all of the latest games on my iPad, iPhone, and every other “i” that I own. So, I sometime allow myself 5 minutes with Angry Birds or another game as a “brain break” to help me refresh.

Because of the research on gaming (and it doesn’t require 18 hours a week) and my own personal “brain break” activities, I am now wondering if there is value for the “brain break” video games in e-learning courses – and what that value is. I’ve never created a “brain break” game in an e-learning course, and I’ve never had a client ask for them. I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts. Is there value in adding “brain break” games in courses? What do you think?

Desiree Pinder
Artisan E-Learning

3 Responses to “What is the Value of Games in E-Learning?

  • Frances Eden
    11 years ago

    I agree, and also feel that they can be offered in an online learning environment as a reward to achieving a certain level of learning. This gives the learner a much needed mini break, and also serves to motivate through reward

  • You may have heard this from others, but a great book on the subject of video games and learning is “What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning,” by James Paul Gee. It’s not about e -learning per se, but its conclusions about the positive effects are eye-opening.

    • Desiree Pinder
      11 years ago

      Wonderful, Chris. Thank you for the name of this book. I’ll add it to my spring reading materials.

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