Gaming

Research: Game-Based Learning Can Help Nontraditional Student

Game-based learning should just be another tool in the belt, as far as educators in higher ed think, particularly useful for "learning moments" that can help students succeed. Likewise, game-based learning is no good if it's pricey and complex to develop; it needs to be inexpensive and "authorable" by the faculty members themselves. And don't forget, students say, to make the games mobile so they work on the same devices the students like to use.

Those are some of the findings that came out of a series of interviews with education leaders and a set of focus groups and surveys among "nontraditional" students done by Muzzy Lane Software, a game development studio. The company sought to understand the learning journeys of these students to see whether a game-based approach made sense in helping them improve their learning outcomes. Nontraditional students were defined as those who met at least two criteria: They were returning to school after a break in their education; they were balancing work, family and school responsibilities; they came from a lower income environment; they were English-as-a-second-language learners; or they were first-generation college students.

In a report on its findings, "The Potential for Game-Based Learning to Improve Outcomes for Nontraditional Students," funded by a $260,500 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the company identified multiple activities game elements can deliver to help these students "succeed in their academic journey":

  • By engaging them in ways to help them understand their learning styles and strengths and make better decisions as they choose programs and courses;
  • To give them practice strategies and help them develop learning skills, such as how to approach assignments and manage their time;
  • To give them "positive safe assessment" that's nonjudgmental; and
  • To help them develop a growth mindset and prove their own learning potential through "leveling up" in game-based challenges.

These echo many of the same benefits of game-based learning referenced by the educators:

  • The ability to pose complex problems and assess higher order skills, such as systems thinking and complex problem-solving;
  • Providing safe environments for students to learn through "trial and error";
  • Helping students build their study skills, with immediate feedback to motivate them at crucial moments;
  • Building employment skills in real-world scenarios;
  • Providing "timely, helpful feedback" on student actions; and
  • Allowing them to build their collaborative and competitive skills to reach goals through multiplayer interactions.

Multiple hurdles have prevented instructors from adopting game-based approaches in their courses, including cost, fit with curriculum and limited use and impact of the gaming components. Typically, primary author Bert Snow wrote in the report, "Most game-based learning projects to date have been high-cost custom-development projects that many schools simply cannot afford. Upkeep is also expensive, as the development studio usually must be brought back to make changes."

The results of the research project have compelled the company to reconsider its business model. Up until now, the focus of Muzzy Lane has been on working with other organizations, such as curriculum publishers, to add adaptive game-based learning components to digital materials. Snow, who is also vice president of design for Muzzy Lane, noted that now the company will shortly be announcing a cloud-based authoring platform to allow educators to create their own game components. "We look forward to seeing what educators create with the authoring tools, and working with them to meet the needs of students," he stated.

The report is available by request from info@muzzylane.com.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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