Though many educators are excited about game-based learning, the movement is still very much in a state of transition. Commercial game developers have quickly discovered it’s easier and quicker to develop mobile apps aimed at parent consumers than it is to create an easy-to-use yet robust product to make a meaningful impact on classroom learning. Meanwhile, the education sector is focusing on how to use assessments with games, because although test scores certainly don’t paint the whole picture, they remain the main data point for administrators and policymakers assessing schools and teachers.
As game developers look at a complicated education marketplace studded with persistent challenges, a few guidelines have begun to emerge to help make it easier for teachers to use and see value in educational games.
One big misperception of educational games and a turn-off for some educators is the idea that games are meant to entertain students when they're in school. “Learning is already fun,” said Dan White, CEO and founder of educational gaming company Filament Games in a recent edWeb webinar. “The objective of game technology isn’t to sugar coat learning, it’s to give a nice entree into the learning. If you are really teaching somebody something, they’ll have a good time.”
Not every student will love every educational game, but that's not the point -- the point is to help different types of learners access the information. White says the term “game” can lead to the misperception that it's all about entertainment, when to him the point is reaching learning goals and targeting the kinds of classroom challenges that traditional teaching has difficulty addressing.
Creating games that tackle tough concepts is a huge challenge. “It’s not obvious what sort of pain points we are trying to address by creating learning games,” White said. “If it was easy, a McGraw or Pearson would be waiting at the top, they’d have already figured this out.” Topics that games have the potential to add a meaningful learning layer are those that require a lot of class time to do in the real world, like watching a plant grow; subjects that would cost money, like science experiments; or concepts that students persistently have difficulty grasping. But to find out what schools really need, developers have to ask teachers and listen closely to the answers.