Can video games help you learn?

November 29, 2007

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Worried about the potentially negative aspects of the video games your kids will receive for Christmas? After all, countless headlines portray children’s video games as anti-social, violent and mind-numbing. But what if gaming’s negative aspects could be removed and replaced with memory, social engagement and motivation?

David Kaufman knows it’s possible, having wrapped up a four-year study examining how people learn from gaming technologies. A professor in the Faculty of Education and director of SFU’s Learning and Instructional Development Centre, Kaufman leads a nationwide research network Simulation and Advanced Gaming Environments for Learning (SAGE), to explore whether computer simulations and games can support learning and, if so, how to integrate that learning with theoretical knowledge in order to produce effective simulations in real settings.

The study, says Kaufman, reveals that gaming has impressive benefits as a learning tool. "Video games are immersive and have an immediate hook-in," he says. "They’re engaging social, as evidenced by the characters involved and the multi-player aspect." What’s more, he adds, they’re motivational since results are achieved through competitive situations.

While these are all important aspects of learning, Kaufman says technology will never make teachers obsolete. "Face-to-face interaction should not be replaced; these are just different teaching methods."

He also predicts that games and simulations for learning are not a fad, but will become a powerful adjunct for learning at all levels. "Learning-centered education using computerized gaming and simulations could potentially lead to startling results for on-line learners and distance education," he notes.

The 19 researchers involved in the SAGE study, who span nine institutions across Canada in the fields of education, psychology, computer science and new digital media, are co-writing a book on their results. They hope it will answer some major questions about how educational approaches should evolve to make learning attractive, effective and easily accessible in a world of ever-changing technology.

They anticipate that projects like this will position Canada at the forefront of a fledgling industry creating exciting opportunities to help learners everywhere.

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