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The Improvement In Learning Provided By Games

01.29.2014
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In our ever changing world, being able to adapt to a rapidly shifting environment is a skill many employees, and indeed many organisations would find invaluable.

New research suggests that games could play a big part in creating such an adaptable mindset. The research saw participants playing a math video game, either competitively against another player, on their own or collaboratively with another player. It found that the games played with other people saw participants adopt a mastery mindset that rendered them highly capable of learning.

“We found support for claims that well-designed games can motivate students to learn less popular subjects, such as math, and that game-based learning can actually get students interested in the subject matter—and can broaden their focus beyond just collecting stars or points,” says Jan Plass, a professor in NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and one of the study’s lead authors.

“Educational games may be able to help circumvent major problems plaguing classrooms by placing students in a frame of mind that is conducive to learning rather than worrying about how smart they look,” adds co-lead author Paul O’Keefe, an NYU postdoctoral fellow at the time of the study and now at Stanford University’s Department of Psychology.

The researched looked in particular at participants motivation to learn, combined with their interest and performance in math after they’d played a math based video game in each of the three ways mentioned earlier.

They were looking in particular for evidence of two types of motivation. On one hand was mastery orientation, where the focus was on learning and getting better as the participant charted a course towards mastery. On the other hand was a goal orientation, where the participant was more interested in validating their abilities.

For instance, in the classroom, a participant may be focused on improving their skills (mastery), or, instead, trying to prove how smart they are or trying to avoid looking incompetent compared their peers (performance).

Research has generally shown a mastery orientation is superior for learning because of the focus on developing new skills towards mastery, with mistakes thus viewed as part of the learning process.

Suffice to say, many workplace environments can encourage goal based orientations, with a great deal of workplace feedback geared towards goals and KPIs.

Whilst games would appear instinctively to focus attention on goals rather than mastery the research found that when participants played the game either competitively or collaboratively, they reported the strongest mastery goal orientation. This indicates that the optimal mindset for learning was when they played games with others.

“The increased interest we observed in the competitive and collaborative conditions suggests that educational games can promote a desire to learn and intentions to re-engage in the material, and in the long run, may create independent and self-determined learners,” notes O’Keefe.

Maybe now is the time to supercharge learning in your own workplace by deploying games more frequently.

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Published at DZone with permission of its author, David Austin.

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