Win, Win: Educational Games and Student Learning

From Sonic the Hedge Hog to Mario Brothers, I’m sorry I was having an 80’s moment. Today, the games that I just mentioned would probably sound like they come from the Stone Age to some kids. Most kids are playing games on the X-Box 360, Nintendo DS and other gaming equipment, none of which I know much about. Parents are spending upwards of fifty dollars or more for a small disc or online memberships so that their children can play the games that they really, really want. Oh, and if they don’t play on the gaming equipment, there are always computers and cell phones, and I could go on. The question is: what is it about these games that have so captivated the minds of the masses to the point that the education system has taken notice and has pushed for the use of educational technology in the classroom? At least someone in education was smart enough to figure out that the video game world which is captivating the young minds of our students might actually be useful to captivate their minds for learning in the school environment, although there are those that would say this is a bad idea if not done properly.

In Virtually a New Way of Learning: Video Games and Simulations as Teaching Tools, Len Annetta (2007) points out that children captivated by video games are learning new information and concepts, developing “skills that connect and manipulate information in the virtual worlds of video games without really knowing that they’re learning” (p.9). She suggests that instead of shunning games that we need to welcome games into the school environment to enhance education as supplements to instruction. In the HI FIVES project, teachers and students can “create games that keep children interested and that teaches them valuable career and life skills” (Annetta, 2007, p.13), as well as having the ability to evaluate educational games. Annetta encourages that we must use any and everything that we can to keep our students engaged.

In Gaming Makes Gains in Schools, David Rapp (2008) shares that “video games…are now being embraced by schools as a way to teach students key concepts and skills” (p.30). He notes that these games utilize good learning principles which are something that he says schools may not always do (Rapp, 2008, p.31). With video games, performance is the main focus as opposed to school which focuses on competence instead (Rapp, 2008, p.32).  Unfortunately, as Rapp (2008) points out, people do not learn by becoming proficient with the content but by having experiences with clear goals. Sharnell Jackson from the Chicago Public Schools vouches for the efficacy of video games in school and has witnessed her teachers learning to “address academic concepts and skills in the video game environment” (Rapp, 2008, p.32). She even suggests that video games may actually be more rigorous than some standard teaching (Rapp, 2008, p.32). She points out that students enjoy video games and learn from them outside of school because some games involve complex problem solving skills (Rapp, 2008, p.32). However, the most “important difference between ‘home’ and ‘school’ video games is that games designed for school will keep classroom limitations in mind” (Rapp, 2008, p.32).

However, one could argue that these high-tech learning tools could be more detrimental than good. In Computers “could harm learning” (Anonymous, 2005), a study conducted by Germany’s Info Institute revealed that technology and computers at home could harm learning. It was found that frequent use of computers lowered performance. The article implies that computers as tools in the school environment must blend in as a natural part of teaching in the same way as books and other tools and teachers need to be trained on how to use such tools effectively (Anonymous, 2005, p.687). In another article about high-tech toys, Richard Benjamin, a Hobby Town USA franchise owner believes that high-tech toys restrict children from using their imaginations resulting in little brain exercise which may be a cause of short attention spans (DeLeon, 2006, p.1). Amy Noggle argues that despite the teaching that children can receive through technology that as children become more reliant on it, they may also become dependent on it during play. She suggests that one analyzes such toys before using them and determine how it can support your learning objectives (DeLeon, 2006, p.1). She warns against using them as babysitters (DeLeon, 2006, p.1).

I believe that educational games can both help and hinder learning for students depending on how they are used. I believe that they can help when the learning goals are identified and specific skills are targeted. On the other hand, I believe that they can also hinder learning if they are used basically as babysitters without clear goals for learning or guidance or instruction on appropriate use. Another reason that I believe they could do more damage than good is when they are the focus instead of the learning. When technology becomes the focus over the learning instead of learning being the focus and technology used to enhance the learning, then technology is not being utilized appropriately in the classroom environment.

Educational games used in the classroom setting can have a considerable impact on students’ acclimation to the future workplace setting. For example, Sharnell Jackson points out that the Atari RollerCoaster Tycoon series sets goals for players to “build and administrate an amusement park which requires complex problem-solving skills” (Rapp, 2008, p. 32) which is a skill that will be needed in the workplace environment. Not only that but allowing students to utilize educational games while in the school setting with classroom limitations and defined goals helps them to develop a more functional view of technology for education instead of entertainment only which is the way most students interact with technology when they are at home or outside of school. It also gives them experience using technology which is a requirement on different levels in today’s workplace.

What are your thoughts on the use of educational video games in the classroom? Have you had any experience using them yourself, with your students or with your children?


Annetta, L. (2007). Virtually a new way of learning: video games and simulations as teaching tools. MultiMedia & Internet@Schools, 14(6), 9-13.  Retrieved October 3, 2008, from Research Library database.

Anonymous. (2005). Computers “could harm learning”. Education & Training, 47(8/9), 686-687.  Retrieved October 5, 2008, from ABI/INFORM Complete database.

Rapp, D. (2008). Gaming makes gains in schools. Scholastic Administr@tor, 7(7), 30-32.  Retrieved October 3, 2008, from ProQuest Education Journals database.


2 responses to “Win, Win: Educational Games and Student Learning

  1. Hi an interesting blog. My view would be that computer games should be embraced in the classroom but not as a substitute for other forms of learning. I do worry about the amount of time children spend looking at screens and the ability to interact and socialise in the real world. I also think children should not become reliant on google to find out information. On the whole I think modern technologies can be a great asset in the learning environment.

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Kate. I agree with each point you made. I think that school systems need to provide more education and training to educators on how to successfully integrate modern technology in the learning environment with the purpose of enhancing the learning process as opposed to relying on it or using it to substitute other forms of learning as you mentioned. However, in my teaching experiences, I’ve found that many educators I’ve worked with either don’t know how to actually use modern technology or just may not know how to integrate it in the learning environment. In those cases, what I’ve found is that when schools or school systems want educators to use it in the classroom, without educating or properly training them on how to effectively use it to enhance learning, either teachers don’t use it because they don’t know how to or their focus becomes how they are going to fit it in instead of learning being the focus and modern technology seen as an available tool to bring it about.

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