In a recent article by Ruth Clark in Learning Solutions Magazine, titled “Why Games Don’t Teach,” she makes the claim that “games don’t teach.” She goes on to say, “Not that games can’t teach, but that advocating games as a main or even frequent instructional strategy is misleading.” There are a number of claims and statements Clark makes that deserve further attention.
Research findings: games teach
Contrary to Clark’s assertion, there is solid research and overwhelmingly compelling evidence that games can and do teach a variety of subjects effectively. In fact, there is a rapidly growing body of empirical evidence that repudiates Clark’s claim. Let’s look at just a few pieces of this evidence.
In a paper titled “Does Game-based Learning Work? Results From Three Recent Studies,” the author, Richard Blunt of the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) group, reported on three causal-comparative exploratory studies. ADL, founded in 1997, works with business and university groups to develop consensus around standards for training software as well as associated training services purchased by federal agencies.
ADL reported on studies that examined the difference in academic achievement among students who did and did not use video games for learning. Researchers added three different video games to approximately half the classes of freshman introduction to business and technology courses, third-year economics courses, and third-year management courses. All courses imposed identical testing situations, while data collected included game use, test scores, gender, ethnicity, and age. Analytic methods testing game-use effectiveness included ANOVA, chi-squared, and t-tests.
The findings indicated that the mean scores of students in classes using the game were significantly higher than those of students in classes that did not. There were no significant differences between genders, yet both genders scored significantly higher with game play. There were no significant differences between ethnicities, yet all ethnic groups scored significantly higher with game play. Students 40 years and under scored significantly higher with game play, while students 41 and older did not. Blunt further indicates that “these studies add definitive research in the area of game-based learning. The DoD now has studies proving the efficacy of digital game-based learning and how it can improve learning.”
While three studies indicating learning from games is a start, and already debunks the myth that “games don’t teach,” one could make an argument that it is hardly a foundation for making the assertion that games teach. True, but this is not the only research indicating games are effective teachers.
Connolly, et al. (2011) looked at more studies and reached the same conclusion. They conducted a meta-analysis (study of studies) by reviewing 129 papers reporting evidence related to the impacts and outcomes of computer games and serious games with respect to learning and engagement. The majority of the studies reviewed—121 (94 percent)—reported quantitative data, with eight (six percent) reporting qualitative data. One strong conclusion they reached was that the most “frequently occurring outcomes and impacts were knowledge acquisition/content understanding and affective and motivational outcomes.” Certainly, knowledge acquisition and content understanding are learning—learning from games.
In the two meta-analysis papers Clark reports on, both authors indicated that games teach (see comments on original article). These findings from Blunt, Connolly, et al., Hays, Sitzmann, and others support the argument that games teach and positively impact motivation. This isn’t looking at one isolated study. It is looking at over a hundred studies both qualitative and quantitative, from different meta-analysis studies and individual studies. The evidence is clear and compelling.
So the statement “games don’t teach” is simply not supported by the evidence. The preponderance of evidence is that games can and do teach. Now does every game teach? No. Neither does every lecture or every online course.
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