Virtual learning is the key to enhancing critical skills and performance
Game-based learning has the ability to instil significant motivation in students and offer a practical learning experience to enhance effective learning.
It helps to transform dull, dry classroom learning into an enjoyable, engaging experience that motivates students to participate in an absorbing learning process. When the teaching is boring, we don’t learn; when we are motivated, we become excited to learn.
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Elements of video games, such as scoring points or “levelling up”, act as a reward motivation for players, who are driven to carry on and improve on their skills in order to achieve or “unlock” new rewards.
As a result, the student becomes unaware of any learning that is taking place, as it takes place within a framework of excitement and interest to the individual.
Games inspire learning outside the classroom – they can instil a hunger for knowledge in students that they otherwise may not experience through conventional learning.
Games provide a safe and contextual environment to help students learn different skills, such as hand-to-eye coordination, to more complex skills like problem-solving and strategic thinking.
More importantly, this model of development offers the student the opportunity to “learn by doing”, which deepens the understanding of whatever a particular gaming experience has to teach.
Experiential learning is made easier using video games. In some cases, they replicate real-world scenarios, which allows for the kind of learning that would be easily transferred to actual practice.
We might consider, for example, driving or flight simulators, which help to prepare learners prior to actually taking charge of the wheel.
What is game-based learning?
Game-based learning is a method of using games to teach students a particular set of skills, or help them to achieve specific learning outcomes. Many people confuse game-based learning with gamification.
Gamification describes the use of game elements in a non-game environment setting. For example, using points, awarding badges, or implementing a leader board, are sub-goals that are designed to make classroom learning more enjoyable, inspiring and productive.
Gamification uses those elements of inspiring achievement to motivate certain behaviours. For example, the accumulation of points, the promise of some reward, and the competitive nature of a leader board are sure to instil desired performance behaviours, to a degree.
Conversely, game-based learning actually utilises gaming software, in most cases video games that are developed as a learning tools, to teach certain skills or enhance learning.
The learning comes from immersing oneself in the game, rather than simply engaging with traditional gamification practices.
Why it works
Motivation is the key element behind the success of game-based learning. Points and leader boards are often used in games because they are extremely motivating for players to accumulate points and achieve high ranking positions.
Thus, players are driven to keep playing to achieve high points and rank as a way to gain recognition of success.
Levels within games also help to stimulate people to keep them playing. Levels are like mini-goals to be achieved towards reaching the final goal.
In order to achieve the main objective, you need to achieve the mastery of those mini-goals before you can advance to a higher level.
In a nutshell, game-based learning helps players to establish basic knowledge before developing more complex knowledge.
To complete the high level goals, there’s a need to draw on all the knowledge and experience gained up to that point. Clear goals are set for players, which they have to achieve if they are to complete the game.
If we translate that to the business world, we can say that employees who have clear goals and directions will be much more likely to benefit their organisation than those who have unclear goals.
Games are designed to mimic the real-world scenarios. As mentioned earlier, a game mimicking flight simulation will greatly enhance a budding pilot’s flight skills, while a game that explores the human body will be able to provide useful knowledge of biology.
Thus, skills acquired during game learning can be applied to real practice.
The “learn by doing” approach has a significant impact on the student in terms of making their learning stick, rather than the learning that comes from reading a book, only to be forgotten over a short period of time.
As well as providing real-time learning, tasks within games are often repetitive. Repetitions of practice helps to strengthen the memory as well as deepen understanding of a particular practice.
This has numerous benefits, not least of all the relief from not having to worry about whether a student might bring harm to another person: simulations provide a much-needed safety net that allows for any stumbling blocks to be overcome, which in turn helps to inspire self-awareness and confidence.
Further, game-based learning is tailored to each learner’s ability to absorb information. Everyone learns at a different rate, with some picking up new practices faster and others slower, while some understand certain concepts easier than the next person.
In traditional learning methods, such as teaching in the classroom, everyone in the classroom learns together but each student moves forward at different pace.
In this way, students who learn faster become bored, while those who are slower in picking up concepts struggle to catch up.
What game-based learning does is it allows each person to learn at their own pace. For example, in a mathematics games, players cannot advance to more complex questions until they complete the mastery of basic mathematical questions such as those involving addition and subtraction problems.
It’s only when the basics are mastered that the player can then move on to more complex problems to solve. As a result, there’s no danger of the student feeling overwhelmed by the pace or complexity of whatever is being taught, as occurs in traditional education learning.
Benefits in learning
One of the key aspects of game-based learning is that each player receives immediate feedback on their performance, with suggestions on how they might improve.
Again, this is an advantage over classroom-based learning, where students may have to wait some time before receiving any feedback at all.
In a traditional setting, grades can provide students with some very loose feedback on how they have performed in the exam, but the feedback is not fully effective because it doesn’t present any real information with regard to performance.
By the time grades are awarded, it’s too late for the student to do anything to correct their mistakes. With that in mind, it’s imperative that ongoing feedback is given while the learning is taking place. Game-based learning provides the perfect platform with regard to continual feedback.
Immediately, students are informed of how well they are performing, which areas they need to improve, and how they might go about making those improvements.
On a psychological level, students foster the desired behaviours in relation to working towards solutions in the face of a problem, and they also learn to adjust their approach whenever their behaviours lead them to making mistakes.
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5 ways games aid learning
1. They motivate students to learn
Before we learn anything, we have to be motivated. We also need to be exposed to relevant material that will facilitate learning. Games enable us to do that, as they quickly cultivate knowledge and equip us with the skills to progress.
Point systems and leader board rankings motivate us to work towards a sense of achievement. Also, games allow the learner to experience time flow; there is no awareness of time passing, and so they become focused and ‘in the zone’.
Further, the fun of engaging in game-based learning means that people want to spend more time with it.
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2. Structured simulations and models
Some concepts are too complex that it becomes difficult to be taught within a conventional framework, due to lack of clarity, guidance, or variety in learning. Games offer digital simulations and models to help better explain concepts that are complex, thanks to the structure of virtual learning.
For example, animations are able to demonstrate processes, which may be time-consuming to show in the classroom. The animations also make information clear and easy to understand.
If we imagine how a teacher might use a game or experiment to demonstrate how one chemical molecule interacts with another, we can see how the process could become laborious for all involved.
Through the use of games, the information comes alive in interesting ways to better facilitate the student’s learning experience.
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3. Learn from mistakes
When we are learning in the conventional manner, it can take some time before we even realise the mistakes we are making, let alone how to fix them.
In games, feedback is immediate and any negative consequences from mistakes made will not impact on real world.
If we make a mistake while flying a plane through a simulator, the process can simply start again. If we make a mistake while flying an actual plane, it can have disastrous consequences.
Through game-based learning, people are able to recognise mistakes almost immediately through the feedback that is provided, and are in a position to fix them much more quickly.
4. Learn by doing
Traditional learning focuses on teaching students what to do, but this is not the most effective way to learn. A better way to learn is through practice and experience.
Games provide experiential learning that allows for an authentic learning experience. Learners are placed in the driver’s seat and get the chance to reflect on how they have performed, and that’s where learners begin to develop.
By actually performing in game simulations, people learn from a full, holistic experience of learning as everything is taking place in real time.
Through practise and experience in games, the learner gains some useful experiences on how to do rather than what to do.
5. Learning is progressive
Games create a learning environment where progress is key – not winning a race. Players are allowed to learn at their own pace to master basic knowledge before progressing to more difficult concepts.
It’s not like traditional classroom learning, where learners in a group need to work through more difficult tasks together, resulting in some students not being able to understand basic concepts before moving on to more complex problems.
Games provide knowledge, from basic to more complex knowledge, where students finish each game level, making tasks progressively challenging. A vital component of effective learning lies in ensuring students can move at their own pace, rather than being swept along by the tide and losing their way.
Ling Gen Shan is an undergraduate psychology student at HELP University. He is currently carrying out his experiment research thesis on the topic of game-based learning, entitled ‘The Effect of Video Games on Learning Outcomes of Biology and Interest Towards Biology’. He also studies how game mechanics help to enhance learning. To connect with him, email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more Consulting Corner articles, click here.