Research, practice, and the increasing number of mobile devices are converging to make game-based learning more common in the K-12 curriculum. Enough to overcome the traditional obstacles of lack of time, technology, and administration support. Other obstacles to implementation have been an insufficient number of curriculum-appropriate games and teachers unsure how to integrate them into their instruction.
But the landscape is changing. Even in the early grades, teachers are now using research-based digital learning games. “The real question is not whether or not technology belongs in early childhood education, but rather, how can we leverage the efficiency of digital tools to best serve young learners?”
Early adopters of game-based learning have made an impact and now find a more positive environment for using games in their classrooms. This new appreciation for the role of game-based learning is driven by such factors as a strong focus on STEM topics with their emphasis on higher-order thinking skills, the move toward a more personalized learning environment, and research showing the learning efficacy of long-form games.
Most learning games supplement the core curriculum. “Short-form games provide tools for practice and focused concepts…Long-form games have a stronger research base than short-form games and are focused on higher order thinking skills that align more naturally with new Common Core standards.”
A recent survey from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center reported that 74% of teachers are using digital games in their classroom and 55% of students are playing weekly. In the Center’s report on teaching with digital games, Level Up Learning, experts state that “immersive and complex games are demonstrating their potential to transform the curriculum and launch it on a new trajectory that harnesses story, simulation, and stimulation, along with competition and collaboration, to achieve higher standards and deeper learning.” Often teachers use games to introduce or review content. Used in this way, games are just one more learning tool or activity.
Even though the increasing body of research supports digital games in the classroom, what is likely fueling the growth of game-based learning in schools is the availability of mobile devices as schools implement 1:1 initiatives and improve their technology infrastructure. Teachers also now have more experience integrating technology into their teaching. Also, putting mobile devices into the hands of students makes it easier to implement personalized learning using games and game mechanics.
Gamification and game-based learning differ. Gamification uses game elements or mechanics but these are not a core part of the activities whereas games are defined “as having four traits: a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation.”
There are even game-based formative assessments now that provide motivational and personalized learning for students while generating actionable data to drive instruction. Experts agree that game-based learning engages students and facilitates positive learning outcomes. However, not every game meets this standard.
For more information on the role of games in K-12 education, check out the following:
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