Video Games and Learning
We are well into the information age, and educators are at the forefront of this paradigm shift. Additionally, educators must have a concrete understanding of learning theory in order to create successful courses. Professor Ted Henning asks whether students agree or disagree with the argument presented by Prensky, Gee and other researchers, “…that video games and technology have fundamentally changed the way students have learned how to learn” (Personal communication, April 10, 2011).
Karen Cator, Director of the Office of Educational Technology, U.S. Department of Education, answers this question best in an interview with ASCD’s Educational Leadership magazine where she states, “When you add any new technology…something is amplified, and something is reduced. Part of being literate in the 21st century…is being able to make careful decisions about technologies and their uses” (2011, p. 20).
“Learning theories attempt to describe how humans learn….what are the key elements in the process of gaining new knowledge and capabilities and how those elements interact” (Januszewski & Molenda, 2008, p. 18). Fundamentally, the three main learning theories (isms) are still at play even with students‘ increased use of video games and technology.
The theory of behaviorism is based on physical events that are visually discernible, in other words, a person’s behavior. Learning takes place when desired behaviors are reinforced or rewarded, and undesired behaviors are ignored or punished; this is called operant conditioning (Medsker & Holdsworth, 2001). The theory of behaviorism is very much at play in most video games. There are very specific behaviors that lead to winning, successfully completing quests, and/or developing a following in the online gaming world.
Taking a slightly different approach when compared to behaviorists, supporters of the cognitivist theory focus on that learning which occurs in the mind of the learner. Supporters concentrate on the visual aspects of content delivery concerning themselves with the learner’s ability to recall the material being conveyed (Januszewski & Molenda, 2008). This theory is also very much utilized in the video game world – especially when it comes to role playing games, and even first-person shooter games that blend aspects of real time strategy into mission objectives.
In describing Constructivism, it may be easier to begin by confirming that it is neither behaviorism, nor cognitivism. Medsker and Holdsworth (2001) go on to explain that adherents to this theory believe in granting learners more control and freedom to decide the direction of their learning. According to this theory, the goal of the instructional designer is to provide an immersive training environment where learners are able to engage in a hands-on approach to learning. Not to be left out, constructivism is very much a part of the various role playing games that are available. Additionally, constructivism is a big part of many immersive virtual 3D worlds such as Second Life.
επιλεκτικής : An Eclectic Approach
From a personal standpoint, the “ism” which I adhere to is “eclecticism”. When it comes to learning, there is no “one size fits all” approach. People are different, and as such, people learn in a myriad of ways. According to Januszewski and Molenda (2008), an eclectic approach combines ideas from the different learning theories without forcing the implementation of an entire “parent theory”.
Like any other tool, mainstream video games have a double-edge. When implemented properly as part of the learning process, they truly can bring a subject alive for students and generate enthusiasm like never before. However, if implemented haphazardly for the sole purpose of “hoping” to connect with students, an educator can quickly lose control and oversight of the original objective(s).
Three for Me
The three games (and their respective genres) that I have chosen to research utilizing the XBOX 360 platform are: Call of Duty: Black Ops (First-Person Shooter), Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution (Real Time Strategy), and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (Role-Playing Game). Both, Call of Duty and Sid Meier’s Civilization have an enormous amount of information that could easily be incorporated into just about any World History/Geography lesson. Both games provide several opportunities for (a)synchronous class discussions and/or debates. The Oblivion game may take a little more creativity to implement, but can be used for lessons that involve social interaction skills, economic principles of supply/demand and/or concepts of buying low and selling high.
ASCD. (2011, February). Transforming education with technology: A conversation with Karen Cator. Educational Leadership, 68(5), 17-21.
Januszewski, A., & Molenda, M. (2008). Educational technology: A definition with commentary. New York, NY: Routledge.
Medsker, K. L., & Holdsworth, K. M. (2001). Models and strategies for training design. Silver Spring, MD: International Society for Performance Improvement.