How do you define learning?

That’s the question Sylvia Martinez asks when teachers want recommendations for “good learning games.” Martinez writes on the Generation YES blog.

The problem with most educational games, according to Martinez, is that they focus on repetition and memorization rather than giving kids a deeper understanding of concepts. “If you have kids who can’t multiply, or haven’t grasped the concept of fractions, will shooting at the right answers with a galactic flamethrower help?”

Essentially, putting math problems into a 3D engine won’t make them easier to grasp. The interactivity of games does encourage learning and comprehension—but if learning games only encourage “practice,” then that high level of engagement will be wasted and may even do harm. Martinez offers a quote from author Alfie Kohn: “The more they’re given algorithms and told exactly what to do, the farther behind they fall in terms of grasping [complicated] concepts.”

That is to say, memorizing some math problems won’t help students understand how they solved them. And the “how” is the more important goal. So next time you’re looking for learning games, Martinez recommends looking for “games that reinforce the style of learning that you believe in.”

It is also worth noting that while educational games may not be engaging kids on  deeper level, many commercial games teach lessons as a consequence of their mechanics. Games like Starcraft teach resource management, Civilization uses historical figures as characters, and The Sims could teach budgeting.

So don’t discount the teaching ability of games just yet!

(Source: Generation YES)

This article was written by

Simone de Rochefort is a game journalist, writer, podcast host, and video producer who does a prolific amount of Stuff. You can find her on Twitter @doomquasar, and hear her weekly on tech podcast Rocket, as well as Pixelkin's Gaming With the Moms podcast. With Pixelkin she produces video content and devotes herself to Skylanders with terrifying abandon.