Games Provide Student Engagement and Motivation

We have learned that the majority of our students are playing video games outside of school. This means that students are choosing to play video games as a form of entertainment.

Many of the games our students are playing are hard, long, and complex. In James Gee’s article Good Video Games and Good Learning, he thought about the fact that students are paying lots of money to engage in an activity that is hard, long, and complex. As educators, we realize that this is the problem our schools face — how do we get our students to learn something long, hard, and complex, and yet still enjoy it?

Thinking about Gee and Salen’s ideas about game-based learning, it is interesting to imagine the implications that video games might have for learning in and out of schools. If we, as educators, can incorporate games into the topics we find are the most difficult for students to stay engaged and motivated learning, how can that change our learning environment?

Games Provide Embedded Immediate Feedback

It was discussed earlier how games can be used to give feedback to teachers and students. Furthermore, the advantage of using games as opposed to a paper-and-pencil type of assessment is that games can provide immediate feedback to the student and the teacher. Games are designed to give the player the “score” right away. The played knows if they have succeeded or not because the game takes them to the next level or back to where they started.

Arcademic Skill Builder provides a list of the problems that were not answered correctly, so students can reflect on the skills they still need to work on.
Not only do games provide immediate feedback to educators and students, assessment and learning can occur naturally in the course of day-to-day learning. Lucas Gillespie from the Pender County Schools likes to call this type of learning “ninja teaching” because students are so engaged, they don’t realize they’re learning (Fernandez, 2012).

Since students can receive feedback quickly while playing a game, they are also receiving the data they need to inform decision-making regarding the learning process. Is there a particular skill they’ve mastered? Is there some extra practice that is still needed? Is there a concept they need to completely review? Using games helps students take ownership of and customize their learning experience.

Levels of Learning in Video Games

Marc Prensky (2002) wrote an article that presented the positive side to video games. One argument against video games is that it does not teach any “real-life” skills. Prensky does not agree. In fact, he claims that students learn many useful “real-life” skills while playing video games. He broke these skills down into five “levels” in which learning takes place while kids play computer or video games. These levels are very similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of learning as players progress through higher-level thinking skills.

Learning Level 1: Learning How - this is the most basic level in which players learn how to use the controls and operate the game. Players learn pattern recognition, they can learn physically how to do something (drive a car by practicing with a steering wheel), and they practice a skill at this basic level. Someone observing knows this level is taking place because they are actually observing it happen.

Learning Level 2: Learning What - this is where players learn the rules of the game. Players typically learn them by trial and error. The rules for the game force the player to use knowledge from previous games or levels and apply it to the new situation.

Learning Level 3: Learning Why - this is the level in which players learn strategy. When the game’s strategy is more life-like, the more real-life experience can be transferred. Players learn cause and effect, order from chaos, second-order consequences, complex system behaviors the value of persistence.

Learning Level 4: Learning Where - players at this level learn about the culture and environment of the game. Games reflect the big ideas of our culture (love, betrayal, danger, etc.) and the player learns how to handle these ideas.

Learning Level 5: Learning When / Whether - players learn how to make value-based and moral decisions. This level has become the level of controversy - will kids mimic what they see on the video games. According to Prensky, violent video games represent about 10% of total bought and played video games (p. 13) and many positive messages exist inside and outside video games.

Games Bring Success Into the Learning Environment

According to Robert Marzano’s research in Using Games to Enhance Student Achievement, using games in the classroom can result in a 20 percentile point gain for students (p. 71). Again, this shows the real implications that integrating game-based learning into the classroom can have on student learning. Games are a powerful and useful tool that should be used in the classroom.

As you have been reading this information about game-based learning, I hope that you have been thinking about the positive things that could happen in your learning environment by integrating games into the classroom.


What is Game-Based Learning?
Using Games in the Classroom
Challenges of Game-Based Learning
Game-Based Learning Conclusion
Additional Resources and References