Can video games help us learn?

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When you open up a new video game, do you read the instructions? Of course not. It’s just more fun to jump in and start pressing buttons. And, according to author Karl M. Kapp, that’s an instinct that educators should harness.

In his latest book, “The Gamification of Learning and Instruction,” Kapp lays out his vision for appropriating the principles of video game design for the classroom. Surprisingly, his theories have little to do with online learning and more to do with the nuts and bolts of the traditional classroom.
“If we’re clever about it, we can get to what really matters in games: It gives people a sense of purpose and mission, and it taps into our internal drives to overcome challenges,” says Kapp, a professor at Bloomsburg University. “It’s about thinking like a game designer. They think challenge first, interactivity first, engagement first. In training, we tend to think content first. But content doesn’t mean anything unless it’s in a certain context.”

For Kapp, at the heart of a well-designed course is providing students with an opportunity to learn as they fail — to throw away the instruction manual and get right to work.

“Recently I oversaw an investigator training class, and the first day they said, ‘today we’re going to learn the model for investigating,’” explains Kapp. “I think that’s a bad model. As soon as the person walks into the class, you should say, ‘look, someone’s been accused of embezzling $10,000. What are you going to do?’”

Common themes

Kapp has identified four common themes of video game design that can be applied to college-level lesson plans.

1. A challenge put forth at the outset of the course
2. Integration of the student’s experience into a narrative
3. Constant feedback on individual progress
4. A freedom to fail without penalty


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