Wanted: Immersive gaming in K-8 classrooms

Report reveals that teachers are increasingly incorporating digital games into instruction

Stefano Tinti /

Seventy-four percent of K-8 teachers in a recent report said they use digital games for instruction, but few teachers reported engaging students with immersive games that offer in-depth exploration and 21st-century skill development.

Teachers surveyed for a new report from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center said they believe using digital games in the classroom helps students improve math skills (71 percent), computer/technology content and skills (65 percent), executive function skills (59 percent), and 21st-century skills (52 percent).

But while more and more teachers are turning to digital gaming, the report notes a distinct lack of immersive gaming in K-8 classrooms.

(Next page: What contributes to immersive gaming’s minimal presence in K-8 classrooms?)

As research on educational gaming increases, data points to the benefits students receive from immersive gaming, such as stronger problem-solving skills.

“The highly immersive, highly complex, and highly engaging experiences afforded by certain types of video games don’t just improve learning, they can improve the kind of learning that children need to do well in school and life beyond,” authors Lori Takeuchi and Sarah Vaala wrote in the report. “However … most K-8 students aren’t playing these types of games…at least not at school.”

Most students play mini-games or games embedded in interactive lessons, according to the report.

“Notably absent from K-8 classrooms are games with curricular objectives that also look, feel, and play like the commercial games kids typically play at home. Given the expanding community of developers creating learning games of this type, we were hoping to see more of them in teachers’ survey responses,” Takeuchi and Vaala wrote.

This lack of immersive gaming could be due to two reasons:
1. Immersive games aren’t typically completed in one class period, and because they require a longer time commitment, educators may avoid aligning their use with class lessons. In fact, 46 percent of game-using educators cited time as one of the biggest barriers to using digital games in the classroom.
2. “There is still a relative paucity of immersive games that are suitable for use in K-8 settings. For younger students in particular, online lesson systems and drill-and-practice apps are plentiful, while immersive games with educational objectives are not,” according to the report.

Though a majority of teachers indicate that they have integrated digital games into their teaching, 80 percent said they wish it were easier to find games aligned to their curriculum. Those teachers who do not use digital games were more likely to say they are not sure how to integrate the games into their instruction.

Seventy-one percent of teachers who use digital games said their students’ math skills have improved as a result, and 42 percent said students’ science skills improved.

Research reveals that four out of five teachers who use games said their students play games created for educational use. Five percent of responding teachers said their students usually play commercial games, while 8 percent said their students play a hybrid game form that adapts entertainment games for educational use.

The report offers six recommendations for policymakers, stakeholders, and school leaders in order to help educators better identify and incorporate digital games into their class time.

1. Establish an industry-wide framework for describing and evaluating educational games.

2. Elevate awareness of alternative means of integrating games into instruction.

3. Invest in the creation of innovative integration models for classroom digital gameplay.

4. Provide universal technology training for pre-service teachers.

5. Create and promote online training resources.

6. Conduct follow-up research and share widely with stakeholders.

The report was produced by the Games and Learning Publishing Council, a project of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center.

Sign up for our K-12 newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Laura Ascione

Want to share a great resource? Let us know at

INNOVATIONS in K-12 Education


Sign up for our K-12 newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

eSchool News uses cookies to improve your experience. Visit our Privacy Policy for more information.