Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Key Elements of Educational Games

As mentioned in a previous post, I asked educators to choose 5 elements they felt were most important to make an effective learning game. I threw out a few suggestions, but encouraged respondents to add to my list.

The two features that tied for first place were "engages students and gets them excited about learning" and "explicit goal (win objective) and a clear map for achieving that goal." This second winning feature isn't something I had in my list. I posed this question in three different online communities, and this second feature was mentioned (unprompted) in each of the three communities.

The full list of features mentioned as key for learning games are listed below.
    •    Engages students and gets them excited about learning (tied for first)
    •    Explicit goal (win objective) and a clear map for achieving that goal (tied for first)
Provides instructive feedback (tied for second)
Adapts to student performance (tied for second)
Requires students to use reasoning skills rather than simply answering factual questions. (tied for second)
Some levels require collaboration with other students either online or in person (when possible)
Set in a real-world context (only if it increases transference)
Encourage further exploration and learning on the topic outside of the game environment.
Provides unlimited practice (but with different numbers/scenarios)
Pedagogy is integrated into the technology
Game mechanics are intrinsically, deeply connected to the target concepts
Customizable so students can be “assigned” activities
My original question was to choose 5 features that are important for making an effective learning game. The top five features in this list all tied for either first or second place, so I feel they are a good reflection of what educators feel are important in learning games.

In my post on Games and Engagement, I mentioned a program called iSTART that helps improve students' reading comprehension. The developers of this program added gaming elements to increase student interest and motivation. On it's own, the program was successful in improving reading comprehension, but in the long term, students got bored and disinterested. The features that they added were:
  • feedback
  • fantasy
  • personalization
  • choice
  • curiosity
On the surface, these don't appear to match what teachers chose as key elements. Based on what I've read about the program, I can say that the fantasy, personalization, and elements to arouse curiosity provided engagement. Choice and feedback is tied into the explicit goal. Students choose what activities to work on knowing the goal and receive feedback based on their performance. Prior to adding the gaming features, the program already provided instructive feedback, adapted to student performance, and required reasoning skills.

Interestingly, the program already included most of the other elements teachers chose as important which gives you some idea of why the program was initially successful from the start. Adding the other more visually obvious gaming features focused more an engagement--the key element that keeps students interested long term.

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