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Playing to Learn

With more than 50 million individual users, it’s safe to say Lumosity is a success. A game-based learning platform, Lumosity offers “brain training” activities that challenge users’ minds and build up cognitive skills in areas where they’re lacking.

Yes, today’s gamers are choosing to spend their spare minutes learning, rather than simply escaping.

As surprising as it is, Lumosity is no anomaly. In fact, similar learning games and apps are cropping up all over, promising to educate and entertain all at once. They say “every animal learns through play”, and learning games are certainly proving that mantra.

Take Duolingo, for example. The site has gamified linguistics, breaking down speaking, listening and translating new languages into bite-sized games and activities. More than 110 million people use Duolingo worldwide.

So what is it about Lumosity, Duolingo and other learning games that people find so addictive? And what does their success mean for the future of gaming – and education as a whole?

 

Why Games Work

To understand why games are successful learning tools, it’s important to stop thinking of games as pure entertainment. For sure, video games can be fun and exciting, but truly well-done ones? They offer much more than that.

They offer experiences.

And experiential learning is one of the most powerful and successful educational methods around. According to the Center for Creative Leadership and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, people learn 70 percent of their jobs through experiential learning. Only a mere 10 percent is learned through formal training methods.

But more than that, games also provide:

  • Motivation and goal-setting.
    Games keep and hold users’ attention, and they provide rewards for achieving certain predetermined goals. These rewards may be points, additional levels/challenges or even real, tangible prizes in some cases. Because goals are established at the outset of the game, users are also encouraged to be proactive in their approach, strategizing how to best achieve the preset goals.
  • Knowledge-sharing.
    In the classroom setting, it’s all or nothing. If you don’t know all the answers to the test, your grade will reflect that. In video games, the knowledge is more spread out. Users can rely on other players, tools or characters within the game to achieve their goals. This allows them to learn and witness new skills in action before actually needing to perform them themselves.
  • Empathy.
    Because video games are experiential, they have the ability to give users a first-person view of something outside themselves – another person, position, group or world. This enhances empathy and interest in the learned subject.
  • Practice Makes Perfect
    A failed test in school can mean a failed class, a failed grade, and no university acceptance letters. A loss in a video game? A user can simply start over and try again. This low cost of failure means users are more likely to pick back up and try again, learning through trial and error until the ultimate goal is achieved.

For educators, the true power of game-based learning goes far beyond its efficacy in teaching. Even more valuable than this is its measurability. Apps like Duolingo and Lumosity actually use deeply integrated analytics to track mastery and competence, so they can provide new content customized to the user at a pace and level that fits their abilities. This data can be measured and understood at a broader level, giving deep insights into what users are doing and why they’re doing it –even allowing creators to influence behavior and instill new skills.

A good example of how these insights can be used is seen in Cogniss, an Australian learning engine that creates games and apps to train corporate leaders, educate young minds, improve overall mental health and even encourage behavioral change.

Cogniss is just further proof that the future – in every sector and field – is gamified.

About Nico
I am a strong believer in the educational and psychological benefits of games. If I'm not writing about games, I'm probably making them.
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