The Learning Principles of Gaming

What makes PeaceMaker, and videogames in general, powerful tools for learning is that a variety of effective learning principles are embedded within the game design. While there is a spectrum of learning principles embedded within good game design, I’ve distilled the list down to five cornerstones.

1. Just-in-time learning.
Videogames give you just enough information that you can usefully apply. You are not given information you’ll need for level 8 at level 1, which can often be the case with schools that download files of information that are never applied. Videogames provide doable challenges that are constantly pushing the edge of a player’s competence. This is similar to Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development.

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Lev Vygotsky

2. Critical thinking.
When you play videogames you’re entering a virtual world with only the vaguest idea of what you are supposed to do. As a result, you need to explore the physics of the game and generate a hypothesis of how to navigate it. And then test it. Because games are complex, you are continually reformulating and retesting your hypothesis — the hallmark of critical thinking.

3. Increased memory retention.
Cognitive science has recently discovered that memory is a residue of thought. So what you think about is what you remember. As videogames make you think, they also hold the potential to increase memory retention.

4. Emotional interest.
Videogames are emotionally engaging. Brain research has revealed that emotional interest helps humans learn. Basically, we don’t pay attention to boring things. The amygdala is the emotional center of the brain and also the gateway to learning.

5. We learn best through images.
Vision is our most dominant sense, taking up half of our brain’s resources. The more visual input, the more likely it is to be recognized and recalled. Videogames meet this learning principle in spades as interactive visual simulations.

The “cornerstones” listed here can all, in some way, be applied to true mobile learning as well. The attributes of “just in time learning,” “critical thinking,” and “emotional interest” are as much benefits to utilizing mobile capabilities to support teaching and learning as they are for games.

Perhaps the best combination for integrating games and mobiles into traditional coursework is to combine the two for mobile gaming in education. Used as supplementary work initially, innovative efforts may bring both games and mobile into more classrooms while not requiring an immediate pedagogical shift for those less inclined to test the innovation waters.