Games are educational and motivational and are powerful tools for learning and positive change.

Games are educational and motivational and are powerful tools for learning and positive change. What can educators learn from the gaming industry that can be applied to effective teaching and learning in the classroom? Below are three critical aspects of game-based learning (GBL) with classroom implications:

Freedom: When students play games, they are absorbing and applying knowledge voluntarily. Games allow for experimentation and choice and emphasize problem solving and creativity.
Failure: Not only is failure an option, it’s actually encouraged in GBL. Students try again and again and again. Games pose problems, and as students attempt to solve them, they identify gaps in their knowledge and begin to develop strategies to overcome the challenge. Traditional learning environments and assessments often tell students that they have only one opportunity to succeed.
Abstraction: Games can incorporate metaphors, imagery, and innovative ideas to help communicate difficult concepts. They often distill complex issues to basic and easily digestible problems that users can interact with and understand.

Many educators express interest in using games in their classroom or afterschool program but are unsure where to start. Researchers recommend that the adults play the games first, to understand if the game will work with their curriculum or learning goals. If you decide to use a game, keep participation voluntary, and require that students agree to abide by the rules of the game.

Games can be used as tools to differentiate instruction in the classroom. Educators can use them to support both content review and pushing students forward to new concepts. Consider playing games together as way to build a positive classroom culture. Games provide low-stakes competition to build collaboration skills. For younger students, games can enhance social-emotional skills such as helping and sharing.

If you’re adding games to your afterschool program, start small with implementation, continually reflect on what’s being learned and regularly try new GBL approaches. Your students’ engagement and achievement will be worth the effort.