When I was a kid, time spent with the Atari 2600 console was tantamount to dodging responsibilities. Today, video games are no longer just an instrument of procrastination. For my kids, playing video games is often their homework. Last night they spent hours with Jiji, the adorable penguin who is the centerpiece of the Mind Research Institute’s ST Math software.
ST Math is just one example of a learning game that supplements a traditional K-12 school curriculum. Increasingly, game based learning is becoming a central component of the school experience.
At the end of January, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at the Sesame Workshop published a report that aims to understand “the market dynamics for digital learning games in K-12 schools” and identify “areas of innovation that are ready for new investment.”
The “Games for a Digital Age: K-12 Market Map and Investment Analysis” report, written by John Richards, Leslie Stebbins, and Kurt Moellering, provides “information and recommendations for investors, game developers, and publishers hoping to succeed in the K-12 institutional space.”
Despite the many systemic obstacles to moving new products into the K-12 marketplace–”a few multi-billion dollar players, a long buying cycle, selling costs, a byzantine decision-making process, demand for curriculum and standards alignment, requirements for proof of effectiveness, and a need for professional development”–the game-based learning space, which is still in the formative stages of technological evolution, is clearly a sector fertile for investing.
As Dave McCool, President and CEO of Muzzy Lane observed, “the stigma of games seems to have pretty much fallen away at this point,” suggesting that serious school district and institutional spending on games is about to skyrocket. Muzzy Lane is one of the big name developers in game based learning, working closely with long established players in the education market like McGraw Hill Education. Last week I wrote about Muzzy Lane’s collaboration on “Government In Action,” a role-playing strategy game designed as a practical supplement for high-school and college classes teaching the basics of U.S. Government. Check out my review: “Government in Action” is the educational game-based version of Netflix’s “House of Cards” series.
Not only has the stigma around gaming lessened, but also schools have become more receptive to technological innovation. For example, it is becoming increasingly common for every K-12 student to have a computing device, interactive whiteboards are now commonplace, cloud computing is lowering the costs for software implementation, and social networks are increasingly playing a part in our everyday social and educational lives. It seems likely that game-based learning will no longer be a novelty, but rather a normal part of the school experience in the coming decade. Games are no longer just entertainment.
The Cooney Center report distinguishes between long-form and short-form games. Long-form games “are focused on higher order thinking skills” and continue for long periods of time–perhaps a semester, a full school year, throughout a multi-grade curriculum. Short-form games ”provide tools for practice and focused concepts,” fitting neatly into classroom time, perhaps supplementing a core curriculum in short (maybe 10 minute) bursts. The larger market opportunity appears to be in short-form learning games that function as supplemental material.
Certainly game-based learning presents both opportunities for profit and for improved teaching and learning. Scalability alone is an argument for the implementation of more games in schools. Games have the potential to increase accountability in the area of process rather than in the narrow and often limited area of quantifiable outcomes. In other words, more quality educational play-time is preferable to more testing, measuring, and evaluating.
If you follow me on Forbes, you already know that I strongly believe in the promise game-based learning. However, the philosopher, the depth psychologist, and the educator in me all hope for more research that looks into the cultural implications of such a pedagogical shift.
French philosopher Jean Luc-Nancy is one in a long line of thinkers that remind us about “the indistinctness between the ‘message’ and the ‘medium.’” By changing our method of transmitting information we also change the information itself. We are not just changing school curricula. We are also altering the way our children think about the world. The big purpose of education is to prepare good citizens by providing them with a foundational competency in our cultural way of structuring reality, a process that has immediate impact on the social systems in which they will inevitably participate. We are not just teaching STEM and language arts skills, but also lessons about our collective values.