Why are our students better at video games than learning?

I was watching a programme on the BBC called ‘Game Changers’, a controversial programme about the controversial subject of the impact of video games on teenage minds, when I started wondering about the true impact of video games on our development. It depicts the story of Grand Theft Auto (GTA) and the civil lawsuit brought against them by the victims of a copycat killing. There has been much debate on the impact of video games on promoting violence, but I believe that there are other things that video games can bring to our development.

As many of my colleagues (and students) will tell you, I am an avid gamer and would, quite happily, spend an entire holiday playing, and completing, a game. The intrinsic enjoyment of playing the game keeps me engaged for long periods of time and, despite numbers of failures (I die and mess up A LOT), I keep going until I am successful. If I struggle with a mission, I will go back and improve my skills or character until the mission is manageable. I get frustrated, but I overcome this frustration.

Now I know that this may sound entirely irrelevant to you, but to me it suggests that when I am playing, I display a growth mindset and I imagine that anyone playing them must have one too. Of course, you get the stories (and videos) of people who are unable to take losing and start throwing things, but these are a minority and are generally mocked by the gaming the community.

The question is – how can we replicate the elements of playing games in education to promote growth mindsets? The key difference is how we can bring the same intrinsic enjoyment that people find in video games into the classroom. I am a strong believer in contextual learning – something which is promoted heavily in video games. For example – the game introduces a new skill, gives you time to practise the skill, sets you a challenge which involves the skill and then allows you to practise the skill in a contextual situation and then you continue to use this skill throughout the game as opportunities present themselves. The player has the opportunity to master the skill before they are put into a situation where they will fail – an important consideration for learning in the classroom. Yes, they may make a mistake in the training, but it is not going to affect the outcome of the game.

There are many more aspects of video games which could be considered positive, but the fact is, our students are often better at video games than learning in our classrooms. If we start to replicate some of the techniques used in video games, we may be able to harness the excellent growth mindsets found in gamers. Whether it is linear progression, a choice of learning and development or even just being able to see your player develop and feel the difference, we have a lot to learn!


2 thoughts on “Why are our students better at video games than learning?

  1. Oh – when I read the headline ‘Why are our students better at video games than learning?’ I sort of hoped you might have an inkling of an answer, but you’ve just elaborated on the question. I would think that any teaching system that hopes to capitalise on the gaming learning experience should at least embody some or all of these features that most computer games share:

    1) Reward success, not punish for failure. Not “practice your instrument or you won’t get your pocket money” – won’t see that in a computer game.
    2) Empowerment – children play games because they choose to, not because they have been told to. Being told to do something is such a downer. Let them make the decision.
    3) Numerous achievable objectives – such as Levels. Games that are too hard get put down. Teaching should be broken down into achievable objectives. ABRSM Piano only has about 8 levels, the equivalent in a game to go from complete beginner to expert, several years later, might be more like 800 levels.
    4) Peer status – while we may be shy about ranking children, not wishing to discourage the less able, computer games rank players all the time. Kids seem to be able to live with that – when it’s their choice whether to participate.


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