Serious Games and Gamification

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Are serious games "worth it?"

As much as I enjoy the subject and the concept of incorporating gameplay into learning, I don’t think it’s an absolute necessity for achieving learning goals. Learning is and always has been an intrinsic trait of human beings. In at least some way, we learn and adapt our worldview to our new knowledge and experiences every single day. However, when we talk about education in the generally accepted sense of teachers and students, we’re talking about presenting amounts of information in ways that are much different than the typical “everyday experiences” context. The question then becomes “who do we present the content in such a way that maximizes understanding and retention in a minimum of time, expense, and effort. Again, the learning game in this context is not necessary, nor is any “activity”, given the proper motivation and cognitive ability of the students. But in the interest of improving outcomes across a board spectrum of learners and abilities and for moving the margins of efficiency, games and interactive activities can have a positive effect, making the content more exciting, demonstrating complex concepts in new ways, etc.

As a teacher of a not-widley-spoken-in-this-community language, there’s always this allure and mystique of immersion. Knowing that real immersion is not possible for most of our students, we’re always trying to fill that gap in some way, either through simulated immersion practices or through more engaging activities. Games fit that bill pretty well. Where students might not have the means to practice in the real world, smartly design games can give students the means to practice their language in meaningful and motivational ways where they can grow their skill independently.

As technology advances, the learning games will follow suit, especially in the areas of language practice and immersion. I can’ already have conversations in French with a couple of chatbots and there are a few VR apps on the market already for language learning. While there aren’t any shortcuts to learning a language, anything that reduces the barriers to practice and gives the learner a positive experience will be a big motivator.