What do children learn from video games?

With all the talk lately about gamification and education, many educators and parents are left wondering if making a game out of everything from fractions to public policy is really benefiting their learners. Sure, children love video games and iPad apps, but some question whether children are actually learning and retaining useful skills from video games. Should parents and educators limit play to only those apps and games that are defined as “educational”? What do kids learn from video games like Super Mario Brothers and Angry Birds? More importantly, is “play” the new pedagogical platform that will take the 21st century by storm?

In Reality is Broken, Jane McGonigal explains the science behind why games are good for us and how they build resilience, boost creativity and encourage collaboration and goal-setting. She is a world-renowned game designer and researcher, and many of her games are designed to tackle real world problems like poverty and climate change.  In her book, McGonigal offers a persuasive argument that games of any kind push users to perform at high levels and encourage them to be their “best selves.” She also believes games condition people to remain resilient in the face of adversity and help them learn how to rebound from failure, which is an important lesson to learn at any age.  If you want more information on McGonigal, she outlines her research and many of her ideas in her TED Talk on How Gaming Can Make a Better World.

Stuart Brown and Christopher Vaughan explain more benefits and the science of play in their new book, Play.  Brown is a lifelong researcher of animal behavior, and his latest research states that play is essential to developing and maintaining social skills, adaptability, creativity and the ability to problem solve. In Play, the authors explain why playful activity is one of the key determinants of a person’s happiness. It seems if we want happy, intelligent, challenged children, we need to allocate time for play.

More research is in the pipeline on the effects of gamification on the learning process, and we look forward to the insight and innovation to come. If we can continue to engage our students and children through games and innovative technology, there’s no telling where education will end up, maybe even in a virtual simulator.

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