Educational Gaming vs. Playful Learning


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  • References: Bikowski, Gardy, Hanson-Smith, Healy, Kuhn, & Rosenberg, 2013; Thai, Lowenstein, Ching, & Rejeski, 2009
  • With freeform play, students may never actually get into the zone or get a cognitive challenge from the task (Shute, Rieber, & Van Eck, 2012). Thus, playful learning activities are basically a review of concepts, where the acquisition of knowledge may only be at the superficial level of recall. This differs from the deeper learning structure of educational gaming.
  • Research on the effectiveness of educational gaming with children is scarce (Thai et al., 2009). Here are a few of the determined benefits of well-designed educational gaming from my literature review for this age group. Gaming promotes autonomy & metacognition. Children learn the following from games: literacy, socialization, healthy behaviors, systems-thinking, problem-solving. Gaming aids retention and increases learn time.
  • These aspects of play clearly have their place in the learning environment, especially for young children. Piagetian and Neo-Piagetian theories acknowledge play is part of human nature. For example, Elkind (2007) included play as part of his developmental theory on instinctual drives: play, love, and work.
  • While playful learning can have similar elements, the key difference is active learning, as many playful activities passively follow the teachers directives as in the case with the Hokey Pokey. Another major difference between the two is the “challenge” aspect of gaming that adapts to the learners’ needs, while playful learning is freeform. Shute, Rieber, and Van Eck correlated Vygotsky’s theories on the zone of proximal development (ZPD), scaffolding, and contextualized learning to well-designed gaming. For instance, educational gaming requires scaffolding of the learner’s experience to provide targeted instructional needs to engage the learner within their ZPD.
  • Well-designed games incorporate Gagné’s nine events of instruction (Becker, 2008). As an instructional designer, this swayed my opinion in favor of educational gaming over playful learning activities when designing lessons. The following table is my interpretation of Becker’s correlation of well-designed educational gaming with Gagné’s nine events of instruction. These 9 events are an essential aspect of instructional design today.
  • Educators should not think of game design as an extra burden but rather a shared task with their students. Students and educators can use the familiar software of PowerPoint as the platform. Game design for a PowerPoint would begin with storyboarding. Stories elements (plot, character, setting) drive the game design. The PowerPoint serves as a storytelling device and quizzing system, whereas the actual board game could be created with poster paper.
  • Some interactive instructional software like SMART Boards include educational gaming components such as interactive dice, timers, and game boards. Additionally, SmartTech, the creators of SMART Boards has teacher-created games shared on their site. This would be another option to alleviate the burden of having to create well-designed educational games from scratch. SMART Boards are commonly used in K-12 schools nowadays, so this would be a viable option.
  • Reiber et al. (2008) found that there was no statistical significance in their literature review comparing gaming and traditional learning; however, they stated that this is par for the course with any new educational technology compared with traditional learning. Most playful learning activities in the classroom are teacher-directed. This is described as a knowledge push by Chatti, Jarke & Specht (2010), whereas knowledge-pull is more akin to gaming with the learner gravitating toward knowledge.
  • Chatti, Jarke, and Specht (2010) noted the unpredictability of learning outcomes for regular (non-gaming) lessons. Perhaps well-designed games could provide the necessary structure for obtaining the intended learning outcomes.
  • Educational Gaming vs. Playful Learning

    1. 1. What is the optimal learning state for children? Welldesigned educational games, playful learning activities, or a combination ?
    2. 2.  Flat, text-based games like Hangman or Scrabble  Rich text-based, computer-assisted games like Carmen San Diego  Immersive, virtual environment games such as Minecraft  Physically demanding digital games like Dance Dance Revolution
    3. 3.  Sociodramatic play  Behavioral therapy play  Teacher-directed games like Bingo  Total Physical Response like Simon Says  Poorly designed commercial games like Math Blasters
    4. 4.      Promotes learner autonomy & metacognition (Van Eck, 2008) Provides intrinsic motivation (Thai et al., 2009; Van Eck) Effective learning format for literacy, socialization & healthy behaviors (Thai et al.) Teaches systems-thinking & problemsolving (Thai et al) Aids retention & increases learn time (Hung, 2006; Klassen & Willoughby, 2003)
    5. 5. Rehearsal of new events, ideas, & roles (Shute, Reiber & Van Eck, 2012)  Recall for language learning (Crookall & Oxford, 1990)  Cognitive development (Piaget, 1960)  Social, emotional, physical & intellectual development (Elkind, 2007)  Behavior therapy aids children with psychological difficulties (Kaduson & Schaefer, 2000) 
    6. 6. Good game design is similar to good learning design (Shute, Reiber & Van Eck, 2012)  Interesting  Active Learning  Goal-oriented  Anchored in instruction
    7. 7. Gagne’s Nine Events of Learning Game Design (Becker, 2008) Gain Attention Motion, scenes & sounds State the Learning Objectives Rules & documentation Stimulate Recall of Prior Learning Inherent in environmental structure or through familiarity with obstacles Present Content Presentation of game via storyline, rules & affordances Provide Guidance Storyline, profiles & help sections Elicit Performance Unable to advance unless they can demonstrate understanding Provide Feedback Speech, sound, visual or motion directives Assess Performance Progression toward the end goal of a challenge Enhance Retention Interweaving of past learning experiences with new challenges
    8. 8.  Student-created games  Instructional designer designs games  Teacher-created games  Modify commercial games Children inherently know what makes a game good!
    9. 9. PowerPoint, SMART Boards, Paper-based games, & PC games
    10. 10. Gaming Playful Learning Knowledge-pull Knowledge-push (Chatti, Jarke & Specht, 2010) Teacher-directed Student oriented Barbour, Thomas, & Rauscher (2008) found no statistical significance in their literature review comparing gaming and traditional learning.
    11. 11. Teachers may design regular (nongaming) lesson plans to engender specific learning outcomes; however, where the students actually take the lesson is another thing.
    12. 12. Sandra Rogers Innovation in Learning Center University of South Alabama Twitter @teacherrogers
    13. 13. Becker, K. (2008). Video game pedagogy: Good games = Good pedagogy. In C. T. Miller (Ed.), Games: Purpose and potential in education (pp 73-122). New York, NY: Springer. Bikowski, D., Gardy, J., Hanson-Smith, E., Healy, D., Kuhn, J., & Rosenberg, R. (2013, March). Gaming and language learning. [Presentation] CALL-IS Academic Session symposium at the meeting of the TESOL Convention, Dallas, TX. Crookall, D., & Oxford, R. (1990). Vocabulary learning: A critical analysis of techniques. TESL Canada Journal 7(2). Elkind, D. (2007). The power of play: How spontaneous, imaginative activities lead to happier, healthier children. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Lifelong.
    14. 14. Elkind, D. (2007). The power of play: How spontaneous, imaginative activities lead to happier, healthier children. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Lifelong. Hung, W. (2006). The 3C3R model: A conceptual framework for designing problems in PBL. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning, 1(1), 55-77. Kaduson, H. G., & Schaefer, C. E. (Eds.). ( 2000). Short-term play therapy for children. New York, NY: The Guilford Press. Klassen, K. J. & Willoughby, K. A. (2003). In-Class simulation games: Assessing student learning. Journal of Information Technology Education, 2, 1-13.
    15. 15. Reiber, L. P., Barbour, M.K, Thomas, G. B., & Rauscher, D. (2008) Learning by designing games: Homemade PowerPoint games. In C. T. Miller (Ed.), Games: Purpose and potential I n education (pp 23-40). New York, NY: Springer. Shute, V. J., Rieber, L. P., & Van Eck, R. (2012). Games…and…Learning. In R. A. Reiser & J. V. Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and issues in instructional design and technology (pp. 321-332). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall. Thai, A. M., Lowenstein, D., Ching, D., Rejeski, D. (2009). Game changer: Investing in children’s play to advance children’s learning and health. New York, NY: Sesame Workshop. Van Eck, R. (2008). COTS in the classroom: A teacher’s guide to integrating commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) games. In R. Ferdig (Ed.), Handbook of research on effective electronic gaming in education. Hershey, PA: Idea Group.