Do Video Games Have Educational Value?
Yesterday I participated in a panel discussion at the New America Foundation about the educational value of video games. Here’s some of what I had to say—and I’d love to hear your own opinions and comments on the subject:
“Kids’ experience with educational technology overturns some of our assumptions about how children learn, starting with the idea that kids want things to be easy, that to make learning appealing to kids, we should make it as easy and as superficially fun as possible. But then we hear the story of the 13-year-old who was building a model of the Acropolis [with the digital game Minecraft]. This isn’t easy. He was actually engaged by the difficulty of that task. So that’s one sort of cheering message we can take away from technology, that it’s composing the challenge, creating the challenge and then adjusting it to the student’s growing abilities–that’s the key to engagement.
Another assumption along the same lines that’s being challenged by technology is that to make kids interested in learning we have to make it personally relevant to them. Relevance is important, and there are many times when we can connect kids to material by making it personally relevant to them. But with Minecraft and some of these other programs, kids are entering a completely foreign, strange new world and that’s part of the thrill, the exploration of these worlds. It doesn’t have to be brought down to their ordinary, everyday experience. It’s actually the entering into these virtual worlds that are different from what they know that promotes and facilitates learning.
We can also learn from educational technology that kids don’t necessarily need prizes and punishments to learn—prizes for when they do well, punishments for when they do badly. What we want to be doing is promoting an intrinsic motivation for learning, and that’s something that digital products are very well suited to do . . . Many of you may be familiar with the idea of flow, advanced by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. This is a mental state where your skills and abilities are so well matched to the task before you that time seems to go away, there’s no sense of effort or self-control, you’re just fully engaged in the experience. And we’ve all seen children engaged in a really good video game—flow is what’s happening there, and that’s when learning can happen very naturally and organically.
VIdeo games can be very well suited to providing the conditions for flow. Among those conditions are: matching the ability level of the student to the difficulty of the task, and keeping that match at the student gets better and more skilled, the task gets a little bit harder. So the student is always working at the edge of her ability—not so easy that it’s boring, not so hard that it’s frustrating. And that can make almost anything interesting, because you want to master this challenge that’s just at the edge of what you can do, and that’s a very exciting feeling.
Some other properties of flow and engagement that video games and other digital products are well suited to provide are clear goals and clear and immediate feedback. Mistakes are not penalized or punished in any way, rather they’re understood as part of the process of discovery, in fact the only way to make your way in these worlds is to screw up, realize that wasn’t right, try something else. You can see that these are very productive attitudes toward learning. One of the most exciting possibilities offered by gaming is not just the transfer of content knowledge to real-world settings, but the transfer of an attitude towards learning as a process of discovery.”
Click here to hear more from the panel, which also included Alice Wilder, the co-creator of “SuperWhy!”, and Joel Levine, known as “the Minecraft Teacher”—and please do share your own thoughts.