Gamers, defined as individuals who play computer or video games, have developed new and distinctive learning capacities. From the advent of Atari to the modern-day PlayStation 4 and World of Warcraft eSport competitions, skills that gamers have been developing and honing have have also been shown to enhance capacity for learning acquisition, retention, and transfer. According to research done by the Pew Research Center, about half of American adults play video games. Therefore, as an instructional designers and training content creators, understanding the concepts of how gaming enhances learning is important to the success of a program as a number of employee learners most likely either have this undiscovered and untapped acumen or would be able to develop it should gaming be introduced into the learning repertoire.
Generally, video and computer games are designed so that players achieve a goal, whether it is to solve a puzzle, reach a new level, build something, or remain in the game against obstacles, hurdles, and interference. For learning, gaming is changing the ways in which we interact with our learning environments, as well as the skills for how we learn. The following are examples of how the skills learned while gaming can be applied to learning:
- Gamers/Learners dive into the unknown, thrive on mystery, are willing to experiment, work with ambiguity, and make mistakes as they move their way through the game or simulation. They are comfortable knowing that the solution is not obvious yet is discoverable as they play. Within the gaming process, the neuroplasticity of the mind allows new pathways to be built based on the content and experience; and the more the pathways are created and reinforced, the better retention and recall the learner ultimately has. In the book entitled Research-Based Strategies to Ignite Student Learning, by Judy Willis, the author shares:
Multiple stimulus means better memory. The more regions of the brain that store data about a subject, the more interconnection there is. This redundancy means students will have more opportunities to pull up all those related bits of data from their multiple storage areas in response to a single cue. This cross-referencing of data strengthens the data into something we've learned rather than just memorized.
- Gamers/Learners also notice things necessary to complete the goal, solve the puzzle, and/or reach the next level. They instinctively look for patterns, arrangements, and implicit instructions that lead them to success:
Effective online training courses use strategies to help students recognize patterns and then make the connections required to process the new working memories so they can travel into the brain's long-term storage areas. (Willis 2006)
Furthermore, Dr. Rick Van Eck, an Instructional Design professor and expert in learning and gaming, shares his research on the benefits of gaming in education and learning design in his TEDxManitoba talk The Gaming of Educational Transformation. He believes that games revolutionize education by exposing students to the following experiences and concepts:
- Situated Cognition – a student learns within the environment in which he or she will demonstrate that knowledge. Much like Experiential Learning, students learn-by-doing, think on-the-fly, and learning is absorbed and generalized in relation to the activity, context, and culture.
- Systems Thinking – a student learns to view a game or situation within the context of how things interact as whole, interdependent, complex, and dynamic constructs.
- Collaboration – a student critically works with others to achieve success in the game or simulations while developing skills in social negotiation, strategy, and emotional intelligence.
- Problem Solving – a student is faced with a challenge or goal that requires the generation of new knowledge to find the solution.
- Engagement – a student does not rely on fun or motivation to complete the task, but rather cognitive effort. Games introduce engagement through the concept of the Zone of Proximal Development or “The Goldilocks Zone” — meaning the challenge is not too easy, not too hard, but just right in order to keep the gamer/learner engaged and in the problem-solving cycle.
Gaming, while fun, challenging, collaborative, and addictive to some, also creates new capacities and beneficial skills that can exploited when creating learning solutions.