Learning by playing

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Learning through gameplay on the computer, tablet or smartphone effortlessly as a side effect – it’s a dream come true for many children and teens. Numerous studies have been carried out dealing with the question of whether it corresponds to reality or remains only a reverie.

The research on “playing and learning” occupies an important role in education and psychology, because playing is a central space for experience that children and adolescents occupy. They develop emotional and cognitive abilities through play. They train their motor skills and sensory perception, build up self-confidence and learn important social behaviors. At the same time, children and young people learn to deal with failure creatively – when it’s still just fun and games. These and other positive findings have led educators to look at digital games’ potential to promote learning. The next step has been the development of a whole new genre: “digital game-based learning”. This refers to digital learning games in which an educational subject matter becomes the object of play.

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Real learning effects?

The potential of digital games for learning is widely discussed. The focus is on the question of whether the learning effects present in analog games can in fact be achieved with digital games. Games can be both invigorating and energizing, but they can also have a calming and relaxing effect. More contemplative or soothing digital games are best for learning, as it’s here that their learning opportunities unfold. Various forms of digital play can correspond to different learning styles: cognitive and tactile as well as visual or auditory. Role-playing games, for example, let children and adolescents explore, experiment and gain experience in ways that their everyday existence might not allow them to do – in case of physical disability or illness.

As studies by (Ritterfeld & Weber) and others have shown, children and adolescents who regularly play computer games also possess capabilities that are essential for learning in school as well: good concentration, high tolerance for frustration, the motivation to improve their won skills, or coping with failure. As with learning games in general, digital games can promote learning (Wouters & van Oostendorp), when they are combined with additional learning activities. These can include dealing with learning fundamentals or reflecting on the game together after playing.

Digital play and learning have a lot in common

And that’s what makes digital game-based learning stand out:

There are clearly defined objectives that the player has to achieve.
Players and learners are motivated to accomplish these goals. To do so, they have to get active.
Both learning task and game challenge require their full attention.
Successful play and successful learning both require a certain amount of effort and problem solving ability.
Players and learners should be neither under- nor overwhelmed, in order to help maintain motivation.
The sense of achievement conveys a sense of self-efficacy to both players of games and learners.
Both learning tasks and game challenges grow in complexity as the game or lesson progresses.
Feedback on performance is vital to both learners and game players, as it directly conveys their progress.
Quick explainer

Digital educational games can be categorized into several types. Serious games, digital game-based learning, edutainment, E-learning or multimedia learning are terms, like the Magic Circle, that are prevalent in this context.

Edutainment refers to materials that try to integrate motivating entertainment into the learning process. Most of these offers are created for use in schools and educational tools. The target groups are children and adolescents. Older edutainment offers are based above all on classical learning methods: The entertaining elements serve either as rewards for not very innovative tasks (reward paradigm), or they are set up to prepare the way for a subsequent learning task (motivation paradigm).
Digital game-based learning-offers (DGBL) and serious games are based on the assumption that the learning process itself should be entertaining (Ritterfeld & Weber). Celebrating one’s own game performance is the focus here. DGBL is more narrowly defined than serious games because of the focus on digital media, while serious games also include examples with analog media. DGBL offers are aimed at the widest possible swath of educational areas and target groups.
When a child or teen sees the activity they are doing as play and this activity pursues an educational objective, it is called an educational game.
The positive emotions that are generated by game success in connection to the learning processes positively influence learning attitudes and willingness to learn (motivation). The looping character of excitement at play and reward for solving a challenge motivates children and adolescents to want to play more, and thus learn more.
Technology and creativity

Learning can be fun, if it’s interesting. That’s why its especially important in educational games that the structure of play is motivating. So far the research has been limited in terms of understanding the extent to which using digital learning games is actually showing returns. Individual study findings (Ritterfeld & Weber) do suggest that digital games have an effect on educational success and performance motivation: One investigation into the the relationship between technology use and creativity (Computers in Human Behavior) thus revealed that 12-year-olds who play videogames do demonstrably better at creative activities. This is due to the fact, in particular, that players must often search for creative solutions to advance in the game.

Read more in the dossier “Digital games”
/mediabase/img/4038.jpg Computer games are an integral part of our everyday life today. They have become an important defining medium. Digital games
/mediabase/img/3762.jpg Feel the dizzying mountain heights as a freeclimber: Out of reality into the virtual world! Life in the illusion

Daniel Jäger in interview

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