June 28, 2012
Discussions of game-based learning tend to focus on K-12 classrooms, but educational gaming isn't just for kids. From simulation-based games, to Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games, to Alternate Reality Games (ARGs), to Serious Games that take on real-world social issues (see Purdue University's Serious Games Center), higher education is on the path to widespread integration of all sorts of games in all sorts of classrooms.
In its 2012 report on technology trends in higher education, the New Media Consortium predicts that the horizon for widespread adoption of game-based learning is just two to three years away. Despite some challenges, including economic pressures and institutional barriers, it's a good bet that game-based learning will soon be commonplace in most college and university classrooms.
For some quick perspective on the potential power of game-based learning, a good starting point is Tom Chatfield's TED talk "7 Ways Games Reward the Brain." One of Chatfield's key points about digital gaming is that everything can be measured, which means that rewards can constantly be calibrated to keep players engaged.
In the commercial gaming world, this ability to fine-tune reward cycles based on billions of data points from millions of players is used to keep people spending time and money. In educational gaming, the ability to capture immediate, in-depth data about each student's performance opens the door to entirely new modes of measuring progress and achievement, in ways that reward and reinforce engagement.
Assessment can be ongoing. Feedback can be frequent. Students can know where they stand day-by-day, not just at test time, and exactly where they need to work (play) harder or seek assistance. Rewards for effort can motivate students to keep trying when they might otherwise give up, and educators can adjust what and how they are teaching based on immediate feedback about the individual and collective progress of their students.