Video games model the best teaching strategies, writes neurologist Judy Wills on Edutopia.
Games insert players at their achievable challenge level and reward player effort and practice with acknowledgement of incremental goal progress, not just final product.
When players meet a challenge, dopamine is released, producing deep satisfaction, Wills writes. A task that’s too easy or too difficult won’t activate the dopamine reward circuit.
MRI and cognitive studies reveal that the brain “evaluates” the probability of effort resulting in success before expending the cognitive effort in solving mental problems. If the challenge seems too high, or students have a fixed mindset related past failures that they will not succeed in a subject or topic, the brain is not likely to expend the effort needed to achieve the challenge.
Video games let players move quickly to their level. They’re not stuck at level one just because other players haven’t mastered the skills yet. They want to work harder — to move to a higher level — because it feels so good to win. That model works for classroom learning too, Wills argues.
The best on-line learning programs for building students’ missing foundational knowledge use student responses to structure learning at individualized achievable challenge levels. These programs also provide timely corrective and progress-acknowledging feedback that allows the students to correct mistakes, build understanding progressively, and recognize their incremental progress.
Game designers provide “just in time” information to players, said researcher James Gee at a MacArthur Foundation seminar reported on HechingerEd.
. . . (In) the strategy game Civilization . . . players can access a “civilopedia” that contains details on the various game concepts, civilizations and units featured in the game.
“In school, information is given to you whether you want it or not and never just in time,” Gee said. “You’re not going to use the 500 pages until you finish them, and by that time you can’t remember what was on the second page.”
Many games track players’ performance throughout their playing time, showing where they faced problems. That kind of detailed feedback would be useful to teachers, Gee said.
Update: “Just-in-time learning” doesn’t work for math, argues Barry Garelick.