Interactive learning: Can Games Serve as good Learning Tools?

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Interactive learning: Can Games Serve as good Learning Tools?

Sunday, 03 October 2021 | Naina Jamakhandimath

Interactive learning: Can Games Serve as good Learning Tools?

Gaming has a great potential to become an integrated and engaging learning tool that not only stimulates the students’ soft skills but also promotes academic concepts, writes Naina Jamakhandimath

Keeping students engaged in the classroom is an ever-present challenge. Yet, through innovation and creativity, it is possible to offer excellent learning experiences that make learning exciting for students of all ages. How? Through games and gaming!

Games and gaming can serve as excellent learning tools in the classroom and at home, while also boosting student interest and engagement in learning. How do games serve as learning tools? Let’s look at some considerations that will explore just how games can achieve excellence in learning:

Traditional Games and Learning: The Original Way to Learn

Traditionally the games we play, whether physical games like kabaddi or soccer, board games like Monopoly or Chutes and Ladders, or card games like Uno, have always been enjoyed as family activities or to build our friendships. Games have always subconsciously taught us to play as an individual, promoted healthy competition, and shown us to be a part of a team. Can games do more than this?

As humans, we are naturally drawn to games regardless of our age and disposition. Games have an innate way of keeping players interested and focused as they play. They also offer a perfect medium for learning.

At their essence, games offer the blended benefit of having fun while also learning various skills. Just a few examples of learning that can happen during gameplay include developing motor skills, basic mathematical skills, teamwork, interpersonal skills, sportsmanship, strategy skills, problem-solving skills, and more! When games are developed for specific educational purposes, they can help players attain even more learning and academic skills. Furthermore, including gaming and game-play elements in learning environments can boost interest and motivation which are essential for student comprehension and academic achievement.

Technology & Adaptation of Games in an Online/Virtual Format

Today, ever-advancing technology and the pandemic have changed our perception of online gaming. While once an optional add-on or a futuristic dream, today, we know that using technology and online learning is essential. Technology and online games can help us continue learning hard skills and soft skills in a safe environment.

As the world has started to embrace technology and various tools like mobile phones, computers, and even tablets, software companies have adapted and created more solutions and platforms. These platforms help facilitate remote communication while also bringing rich content and entertainment to an individual’s fingertips. Like all industries, the education industry also saw a huge change in terms of online resources including online courses, textbooks, and even learning games. Through these innovative adaptations, students have been able to continue their education even in the middle of a global pandemic.

The Gaming and Education Industries: Roles and Potential

Gaming is a 120 billion dollar industry (in entertainment) and the education market is also huge. EdTech is generally accepted to be the industry where education and gaming come together to offer fun learning apps, learning platforms, and digital learning experiences. This industry was valued at nearly $75 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow at nearly 20% until 2027. Growth may accelerate even faster due to the current Covid-19 pandemic. Just one data point shows that educational app downloads surged 90% compared to pre-pandemic times.

Experts anticipate a huge growth in this industry that will certainly have an intense impact on education around the world. As a result, a few key questions emerge:

  • Role of gaming in the education market: Today’s education system is the witness to many new and innovative learning and teaching tools. Gamified content is one of the best and most effective ways to teach difficult practical subjects. Educators of the future recognize the power of gaming and embrace it as a tool. To answer the question, gaming plays a key role in the education market.

Gaming in the education market is growing day by day. More and more edtech companies are developing game-based content using Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and other tools to make learning interesting without diluting core curriculum content.

  • Gamified learning to fill the gaps that exist in the current education system: One of the problems with the current education system is the number of students teachers are expected to teach. Individualised attention for each student is limited because of the number of students in each classroom. However, AI and educational games can respond to each student as they work, offering an artificial teacher presence. Then, using technology, human teachers can easily monitor student progress and address challenges as necessary. Essentially, gaming has the potential to help make teachers more effective and improve student performance.

How else might gaming help?

Student Attention Span

According to one study, adult attention spans are typically about 20 minutes long. One of the challenges for teachers today is to keep students, whose attention spans may be even shorter, engaged in a 40-minute class. For younger children, the difficulty of keeping students focused and attentive is even greater. Elementary-aged students may have attention spans as short as 10 minutes or less.

Games have helped us concentrate and focus on playing or winning the game. As a natural progression, from physical classrooms to online, educators and edtech companies are considering how playing games might be incorporated in the curriculum to attain the young learners’ attention and keep them engaged to increase their learning. So far, research shows it works!

Games provide a non-threatening atmosphere for students, wherein students are engaged and responsive to the learning process. Students’ attitudes are mentored towards the basic concepts and ideology behind the games. Hence, it is crucial to have strong pedagogy and real life examples and environments to teach students better themselves in all aspects. Student behavior shows the signs of a great positive pedagogy and students tend to adapt and apply the learning to problems, issues, or difficult situations. However, when the principles of a game are not aligned to the curriculum or global understanding of concepts, the game itself becomes redundant. Or worse, the game takes a student on a different learning curve that includes aggression, violence, farce, or superficial learning.

The Role of Creativity & Imagination in Games

In the conservative Indian education system, students are often asked to keep quiet and not ask questions. We have had several debates, thought policies, and opinions by experts in education, expressing the need for a child to question, be creative, and not to curb their imaginations.  Games become one of the important tools to offer children a welcoming environment in which to express themselves. Furthermore, through games, children can be more creative, innovative, and analytical when tackling situations. Today, we are looking at individuals to have a scientific bent of mind and innovate to handle global crises like climate change or disposal of plastic and harmful chemicals. Encouraging science-based games or simple puzzles with multiple solutions will help create young scientists, mathematicians, innovators, and coders.

Gaming in ‘STEAM’ Subjects

Teachers have long approached subjects like maths and science with various teaching methods. Activities, projects, labs, experiments, etc. have all played a role. In the harshness of the pandemic and the advent of technology; online, digital, and virtual educational tools are moving from being a “nice to have” product to a “must have” product.

Today, institutions have moved to an online model of education with the teacher/facilitator teaching the students through video conferencing. Mathematics and science, being practical subjects, require students to do and learn using all their senses including visual, audio, tactile, and spatial. Merely explaining science and maths topics via video conferencing isn’t enough. Students can’t grasp concepts or apply the learning in real life when video conferencing is the only tool available.

Gaming on the other hand, physical or virtual, helps students strengthen their learning through audio, visual, and kinesthetic abilities to play, feel, understand and learn the concepts which bring them to think, feel and act.

For example, when learning math, learning platforms and apps can incorporate manipulatives and real-life situations into the learning. Plus, children can practice reading and solving word problems with multiple solutions. Because the app can provide immediate feedback in the form of clues, hints, or affirmation of a correct answer, children are encouraged and motivated. These are just a few elements you’ll find incorporated into Matific!

Games as a Holistic Teaching Tool

Holistic learning in today’s uncertain world becomes not only important but imperative for one’s growth and happiness. All the aspects of holistic learning such as soft skills, academic skills, survival skills, job skills, physical health habits, mental health, and spiritual health have always been found in games.

Games have the ability to teach us most of the aspects of holistic learning including patience, leadership, teamwork, strategy, survival instincts, knowledge about the game or opponent, focus, vision, fitness, and much more.

Most of the online educational games today are created using just basic requirements, but a good educational tool is one that has a strong base of good pedagogy and rigorous content. In addition, quality online games use games and activities to communicate and disseminate the learnings to students in a holistic manner.

Teachers can go the extra mile and help ensure that learning through technology is truly holistic. For example, students can develop social skills by talking about the learning they’re doing using apps and digital platforms. Older students can mentor younger students and teach them how to use programs, helping the older students develop leadership skills. The opportunities for holistic growth facilitated by online learning are endless.

The Bottom Line on Games and Learning

As the number of educational games only grows, educators need to carefully evaluate them to ensure that they will offer their students a stimulating and effective learning experience. High-quality educational games, apps, and platforms offer a wonderful glimpse into a future in which students receive the individualised attention they deserve. Furthermore, these innovative products can boost student motivation, attention, understanding, and creativity.

Gaming has a great potential to become an integrated and engaging learning tool that not only stimulates the students’ soft skills but also promotes academic concepts. Foundational numeracy, spatial intelligence, analytical reasoning, problem solving, literacy, are just a few examples of academic skills that can be gained through educational games. So, would you be joining this revolution in learning?

The writer is Director, Growth & Partnerships, India, Matific

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