Taken from our Playful Learning: Computer Games in Education ebook (available to view and download below)

Quality learning in schools occurs where you have good pedagogy combined with activities that are either interesting or engaging. Gaming is hugely popular in the UK with over 85% of young people between the age of 5-15 owning some type of electronic gaming device. This means that if used in the right way, computer games, due to their cultural relevance, are an example of an appropriate technology for engagement.

But games in themselves also make great metaphors for learning. As a child my favourite board game was Mouse Trap7. If you think about Mouse Trap (or any board game) the best games offered a number of things. This included challenge, progression and reward. Reward was often in the form of ‘the feeling of satisfaction’ rather than a physical prize.

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Are these not the same three things that we want from our learning spaces? Don’t we want to create classrooms that are full of challenge, progression and the feeling of satisfaction? All good games offer us this and computer games offer at least two other important pedagogical qualities. The ability to personalise and the ability to collaborate. This collaboration can often occur in real time, through technologies such as Xbox LIVE®.


A competitive but non-threatening stimulus

As well as providing many components that help create a quality-learning environment, computer games also offer a stimulus for learning through non-threatening competition. At my own school I observed a group of children playing an online maths game on the PC. The game involved completing simple sums against a timer and an online opponent. What amazed me is when the children lost they would go to the practice area and practice their sums again and again and again.

They never gave up, they helped each other and they weren’t frightened of failure. The interesting thing is that I had seen the same group of children struggling with an almost identical set of 20 maths problems through the medium of pencil and paper. When they didn’t do as well as they could, it was difficult to motivate them to try again – some just accepted failure, they were scared of exposing their lack of understanding of the subject matter.  

I think that there are a few reasons for why this occurred. The first is that PC games and games consoles are culturally relevant for children. They feel comfortable using them and because they feel comfortable they feel safe. The second and most important reason is one of relationships. In the same way that young people build up relationships with inanimate objects such as cuddly toys. They can also build up a relationship with the character in the game. It’s the character that is not very good at maths and it becomes the child’s job to get their character better – the game de-personalises the experience. It removes the fear.

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You can view and download the full ebook below.