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Online Education is Changing: The Influence of Gaming

written by: •edited by: Carly Stockwell•updated: 2/21/2014

Both kids and adults love games, and can learn through play. Conquering a video game, succeeding in sports or mastering chess are all examples of learning by action. Now some inventive people are bringing that gaming mindset into classrooms (virtual and traditional), with good results.

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    How Gamification is Changing Education Traditionally all the fun and games end when it's time to go to school and learn. However, many schools around the country are experimenting with "Gamification": Utilizing game design elements for non-gaming purposes.

    Video games have transformed from simple two-dimensional “do this then that” applications to fully immersive worlds with freedom to interact and grow. Rather than only being distractions from learning, modern games are becoming learning tools. Educators are using the reward systems, interactivity and immersion of modern games for education. Success at games requires many skills necessary in the real world: patience, problem solving, risk taking, collaboration and dealing with failure.

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    How Gamification Aids the Learning Process

    Augmented Reality

    Adding background information to real world objects helps students answer questions and discover more. Augmented reality can be provided for museums, zoos, historical places and more. Students will need to explore and move around the environment to gain information. Quests and challenges can be created by the teacher, making students search and interact.

    Virtual Presence

    Students can be together in places otherwise impossible by physical bounds. People from around the globe can participate in the same seminar. Teachers can present to a class of student avatars from anywhere. Students and teachers together can move around virtual representations of real locations without travel. The environment can be manipulated to teach a lesson or show cause and effect.

    Teaching the Teachers

    New and emerging teachers can perform lectures in front of a virtual audience. The virtual students can be peers or professors. They can play the roles of different types of pupils and allow the teacher to make mistakes in a risk-free arena. Before a class can use a learning game, the teacher must understand it first.

    Second Life is used by schools and businesses around the world as a means to learn and interact together virtually. Participants can craft an avatar and game managers can create a unique world for the team or class.

    New Ways to Measure Progress

    Games already have methods of tracking achievement: scoring points, ascending levels, unlocking badges and earning virtual money. These motivators can drive students to learn in ways no A-plusses can.

    Learn How to Fail

    Who cracks a game the first time they play it? To defeat that boss or finish that level, it usually takes multiple tries. We analyze what went wrong. We theorize with our gaming buddies on how to win. We take turns trying until someone finally completes the challenge. This persistence, patience and collaboration is essential to success in life.

    Learn How to Learn

    Don't just learn stuff. Old-fashioned learning was about memorizing facts and delivering them back to the teacher. The modern mind needs to solve problems and complete tasks. There are more ways than one to get to the finish line. Sometimes students take the unknown path to get there.

    Simulations such as Sim City challenge the player to create a successful metropolis. Numerous are the paths to that goal. Students will find the way that suits them best.

    Create Your Own

    With the right tools, building an app is not too tricky. To give a kid a tool is one thing. To teach the kid how to build a tool to fix the problem is another. Students will enjoy a personalized learning experience when they craft it themselves.

    Students can easily manipulate the virtual world in ways that are difficult in the real world. Using limited materials and budget in games such as Bridge Builder creates an opportunity to learn from building fantasy.

    Be Somebody Else

    Role-playing is an important way to view the world from a different angle. Facing a challenge as a mayor, magician or alien broadens the mind. Students can approach a simulation with varied perspectives then discuss how each character was different. Understanding how a different person sees what you see is fundamental.

    Dungeons and Dragons has been a source of imaginary escape for years. Now it is more visual, interactive and immersive. Math skills such as probability are necessary.

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    What's Holding Us Back?

    Money. Research and development of intensive learning games is expensive. The products are naturally graphics-heavy and information-dense, requiring robust video cards and strong broadband connections. The average school system is not prepared for this. The poorest schools will never be. The movement for technology in the classroom has already opened a gap between the high and low-income students. Reliance on immersive virtual reality will widen that gap.

    Research by groups like MIT's Education Arcade is making the future more accessible. Launched with a grant of $3 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, their research has resulted in a broad range of augmented reality programs, build your own app opportunities and immersive learning environments. Connecting classrooms around the world together through virtual reality may take more than even the Gates can afford.

    Still, we'll watch this trend with interest and see if educators and researchers come up with even more creative ways to use gaming tools to teach.

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