2. Motivation: How Many Times is a Student Willing to Try?

Most learning games will not allow the student to proceed to the next level if he or she achieves anything less than 100 percent. Yet achieving 100 percent mastery doesn’t just happen. It requires practice, repetition, and oftentimes, failures.

In the typical classroom, it is unacceptable for a student to make 10 or 20 attempts to master a concept, and failure is somewhat public.

However, when studying effective learning games  within the LIVE Lab in the Department of Visualization at Texas A&M University, we have seen that students play games assigned as homework an average of 10 times between 2 and 4 hours each time. This indicates not only engagement, but also removes a student’s fear of failure, reinforcing the fact that multiple attempts are not only okay, but encouraged.

When students play games they are not afraid to try something and fail. If the games are well designed, students will try and try again as they are intrinsically motivated to succeed and achieve 100 percent mastery. We call this the desire for the epic win. With fully immersive and interactive games, students benefit from experiential learning, mastering the content they need, which ultimately translates to useful skills.

3. Merit: What is the Role of the Student Learning Objective?

Having said all of this, games should not be viewed as a silver bullet or a replacement of the instructor by any means. Like any other medium, they have their place and are one tool at a teacher’s disposal.

Building effective learning video games is not just an art and a science. Game development is time consuming and costly, assuming the game strives for entertainment quality and that the learning game production meets student digital literacy expectations. Karl Kapp provides a great introduction to learning game design in his book, “The Gamification of Learning and Instruction: Game-based Methods and Strategies for Training and Education.”

Learning video games should always start with the end in mind. What do we want the player to learn? Or what is the Student Learning Objective (SLO)?

Once concrete SLOs are identified based on instructional design theories, then the assessment is defined to determine how students will be evaluated on mastery of the SLO(s). It is important that the SLO is integrated into the game (i.e. not solving a math problem and then playing the game, but solving the math problem as part of progressing through the game). When deciding if game-based learning is the right form or method for any given SLO, faculty will want to assess how the game fits into the syllabus or lesson plan, as well as the time it takes to play the game.

Not a Real-Life Replacement

In my opinion, experiential learning is key, in whatever form it takes. Video games are not meant to replace real-life experiences if they can otherwise be obtained.

For example, if you can take your students into a forest for a lesson on the natural environment, why utilize any other means? Technology, and specifically game-based learning, should not be viewed and used only because it exists, but it should be used because it enhances the experience or allows students to experience something otherwise not possible, like a historical event.

While I believe we will have effective learning games for every subject in the future, today there are few available. Unfortunately, there is not a single source that can test and rate the effectiveness of learning games.

However, the power of game-based learning is coming to light in significant ways through immersive experiences that allow students to connect with content on a deeper level. Game-based learning makes curriculum relatable, driving knowledge mastery, inspiring motivation, and boosting measurable learning outcomes.

About the Author:

André Thomas founded and serves as the director of the LIVE Lab in the Department of Visualization at Texas A&M University, where he also teaches game design, game development and interactive graphics techniques. He also serves as CEO of Triseum, which creates entertainment quality, immersive learning games for foundational subjects. Previously, he was Head of Graphics for EA Sports Football (including NCAA, Madden NFL, Head Coach, and NFL Tour), the longest running and most successful sports franchise in this history of the games industry.