Can Computer Games Help Kids Learn?

10 April 2012 2,919 views No Comment

The explosive growth in video gaming has brought some positive attention to the power of video games to engage kids and also to teach. As with anything in life, there is the risk of playing too much, playing the wrong kind of games, and even of addiction. It is the fear of addiction and other negative effects of video games that have some calling for restraints on all video game usage.

Recently, Congress called for a vote on a law that would require nearly all video games to carry a warning label about violence, whether the individual games are violent or not. This would put video games in the same category as cigarettes, despite the variety of types of games and the plethora of games now being used in schools.

Last week the UK’s Guardian wrote a piece on teachers complaining about young kids playing wildly inappropriate games for their age, and kids who stay up too late into the night playing their favorite games. Rather than calling for parents to monitor their children’s behavior better, and be more firm with bedtimes so kids can get much-needed sleep, the article called for limitations on the games themselves.

Despite the fact that study after study has shown positive cognitive benefits from gameplay, including a rise in IQ, there seems to be a knee-jerk reaction to rise in popularity of video games among children. It is almost as if some people can’t believe that something kids enjoy so much could be good for them. This does a great disservice to education and assumes that if kids aren’t bored, they’re not learning.

Why can’t learning be as engaging as play? Many video games are perfect learning environments – they start off with easy levels, and gradually increase the challenges, while providing immediate feedback to players. Players new to a game spend hours mastering it, usually without reading any manuals or documents, simply by playing the game.

Games teach well by providing a context for the learning that is happening and an immediate way to apply and test new knowledge. Games boost creativity, improve fine-motor skills, and encourage logical thinking. It would be a shame to let fear keep this great tool from educators’ hands.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/judy-van-der-velden/

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203458604577263273943183932.html

Elisa teaches online professional development courses for teachers at teachertechtraining.com.
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