Clark Quinn, in his book Engaging Learning (Pfeiffer, 2005), points out that the same elements that make learning highly effective are also the ones that make up highly engaging experiences. And that modern computer games, being highly engaging, share those elements: clear objectives, a relevant frame of reference, challenging, interesting and interactive.
Quinn says, "Doing good engagement is hard, as is doing good education. Doing both together is even more difficult, but even if the effort is double, the product is more than doubly worthwhile.
Hard Fun. Quinn goes on to say that "Learning can, and should, be hard fun." Serious games, when done right, are hard and challenge the learner. When the player fails, they learn something about why, are motivated enough by the story to try another approach, and ultimately get rewarded in a fun way.
Deep Learning. Highly engaging learning games also work because they have the potential to assist in deep learning. Dr. Merrilea Mayo of The National Academies has presented it this way:
- Learning by doing: Players make decisions that have consequences; they actively participate in the game environment.
- Learning by experimenting: Players can safely try out multiple solutions, explore and discover information and skills.
- Life-like learning situations: Virtual worlds can provide environments that respond the same way the real world responds, allowing the player to transfer knowledge and experience between the two.
- Believing in abilities: Rewards and levels in games foster the belief you can achieve goals. This generates a positive attitude towards overcoming obstacles and increases the player's success rate.
- Clear objectives: Well-defined game goals allow players to make more progress toward learning objectives.
- Team learning and skills: Multiplayer games allow for group problem solving, collaboration, social interaction, negotiation, etc. Players learn not only from the game, but from each other.
- Learning without limitations: Game environments naturally transcend barriers of language, geography, race, gender and physical abilities. Players who are self-conscious in real life because they are "different" have no way of being set apart online.
How can we verify the potential skillsets that are identified in the above statements?
What sort of ways can we effectively measure 'before and after' states that might clearly indicate learning has occurred?
What different types of games have you personally had first hand or observed experience of that might cause you to be able to believe that adaptive skillsets are being demonstrated?
In order to identify the potential skillsets identified in the statements can be achieved by establishing observable terminal learning objectives prior to the development of the games. To me serious games are simply extensive scenarios that are developed to apply concepts that have been explained or shown in the "storyline" of the game.
One way to effectively measure the before and after states would be the presentation of the end objective in a manner that presents no explanation to being able to create a solution without proceeding through the learning environment and gaining tools to solve the problem. This would give you the before state. After the attempt has been made, the learning opportunity is presented and then a similar task to resolve is presented to test the after state. If learning occurred then there will be significant change in the outcome of the task.
In my personal experience, games such as "Final Fantasy" and similar RPs seem to offer the opportunity to demonstrate these skillsets. You are presented an end objective in each world or section of a world and in order to solve the situation you must define and apply specific concepts.
The use of "games" as learning tools has been one way I have encouraged learning with my childern and the students that I work with. When new games come into our home they go through a number of tests including usability, entertainment value and what learning is occurring by playing this particular game. Many of the higher thought processes are employed in solving role playing games and encourage logical and analytical thinking as well as using things like hand-eye coordination.
In one of the online courses I developed, students were assigned roles (with specific motivators behind their characters actions) and asked to meet in an online chat room to solve a staged problem between school officials and parents. The solutions to the problem was only a small part of the learning, they also learned to appreciate the complexity of working on a team where people have vastly different goals and they better appreciated parents role in education.
They were marked on two steps; the utility of the group solution and an individual report on their learning.