Engaging Modern Learners? Game On!

Pete Watkins, Associate Director, TLC
Engaging Modern Learners? Game On! Image of students on IPads

As the parent of two pre-teens, I find myself constantly having to pull my children away from their video games. I watch commuters on the train engrossed in video games on their phones and tablets. From casual games such as Candy Crush, to complex games such as Civilization, these games seem to have a hold on people. So as a teacher, it got me thinking  “What is it about video games that make them so engaging, even addictive?” and “What can teachers learn from game designers about how to increase engagement among learners?”

Here are three characteristics of video games that have direct implications for teaching:

1. Video games are active.  

Most people play, not watch, video games. Occasionally, one of my children will watch another child play, and some people will even pay to watch highly skilled gamers compete. But overwhelmingly, people play video games. So the lesson for teachers is: Make your classes interactive. Have students do something! Of course, teachers will use some lectures and demonstration to impart foundational knowledge, but active learning will increase engagement and deepen learning.

2. Video games adjust to the skill level of the player, getting progressively more
    difficult as the player gets better.  

This is key to helping the learner sustain engagement. Sherman and Csikszentmihalyi (2008) state: “Optimally engaging activities were therefore neither trivially simple nor impossibly hard; rather, the appropriate match between challenge and skill led to higher quality learning experiences in terms of perceived engagement, intrinsic motivation, mood, and self-esteem.” Both gamers and students will disengage if the task before them is too easy or too hard. So adjust your lessons to the level of your learners and stay in what Vygotsky called the 'zone of proximal development'. This may mean having bonus or challenge questions, or readings for students who are more advanced as well as extra support or scaffolding for beginning learners.  

3. Video games give the player frequent, immediate feedback which helps them

Anyone who plays video games knows that games give you frequent feedback about your performance through losing lives, unlocking levels etc. Similarly, as teachers, we can use frequent, low stakes formative assessments to gauge students’ progress, give them corrective feedback and keep students motivated and engaged.  

For more ideas about how to engage modern learners, the Teaching and Learning Center invites you to attend the 14th Annual Faculty Conference on Teaching Excellence to be held at Temple University on January 22, 2016. This event will feature plenary speaker Dr. Christy Price, the 2012 Carnegie US Professor of the Year, delivering an address titled “Why don’t my students think I’m groovy? Engaging the modern learner”.

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