Educational and serious games have become more and more prevalent in schools and the workplace as an important new form factor for learning. It has been recognized that even playing entertainment games have some educational value in terms of developing creative thinking, problem solving skills, and fine motor skills. Applying the interactive experience of gaming with educational content provides a means to absorb information and learn new skills in a way that is engaging, entertaining, and more effective than rote memorization.
"In a recent survey, players of Cisco Binary Game were asked if it helped them achieve a certification. Two-thirds of those certified stated it had either helped them to pass a certification exam or significantly helped them in their studies. Ninety-eight percent requested additional games for other topics. In a Cisco Networking Academy class, students were given a binary math test. Next, they played the game, followed by another math test. The students' average score on the test went from 3.5 correct to 25 correct."1
As you can see, the impact that the interactive experience of a game environment can have on learning is significant. This is due to several factors. Reading a book or sitting in a class is a passive learning experience. These days, if a student is taking a class, they are more likely updating their Facebook profile, surfing the web, texting, or doing anything other than actually listening to what the instructor is saying in class anyway, making the transfer of information even less effective than reading. Everyone knows the most effective way to learn how to do anything is simply to do it. If you want to learn how to cook a meal, ride a bike, or frame a wall, reading about these activities first is very helpful to set a conceptual framework in place, but you'll never really know how to accomplish these tasks without actually doing them.
This kind of immersive experience allows you to learn a task or concept by trial and error, which helps to hard-wire the knowledge into your memory. Putting these experiences in the context of a gaming environment enhances that experience further by allowing you to fail without fear of consequence. It also helps that gaming environments are fun, which makes the task of learning seem less like a chore and more like entertainment. Learning often happens in these environments without any thought or effort.
"'Games are largely misunderstood in our society. They aren't necessarily trivial or sophomoric. Gaming is just a young medium,' says Suzanne Seggerman, president and co-founder of Games for Change, a resource and support clearinghouse for game developers, nonprofit organizations, and educators. 'They're a great way for people to explore serious issues.' Better yet, they make that exploration fun, even addicting."2
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1 Cisco Mind Share: A Case Study, by Jerry Bush, Casual Connect Magazine
2 Computer Games Explore Social Issues, by Kara Platoni, Edutopia