As technology becomes more accessible to younger children, the value of educational video games increases. These video games vary in genre and age range, allowing parents to customize their child’s playtime. Many of these games claim to be educational, but are they actually making an impact?
Researchers at the University of Geneva have results to suggest that video games do help to boost learning, especially reading comprehension.
Background: The Difficulties of Teaching Reading
Instructing someone how to read is not an easy task. Depending on the age of the student, teachers may have a harder time keeping their attention span. The most successful lessons are those personalized to each student, which requires more time spent on lesson planning. Things become even more challenging when students experience social or mental issues. From speech impediments to lack of confidence these issues can greatly impact how a child learns to read.
COVID-19 has only made things worse as teachers have had to move their lessons to an online format. This can cause screen fatigue for both teachers and students, as well as disrupt the natural learning process. To make their lessons more fun and engaging, many teachers are turning to video games to help.
Analysis Action Video Games and Learning
While there are many educational video games out there, not all may be impactful to a child’s learning. Researchers at the University of Geneva wanted to understand how action video games impacted learning. Publishing their findings in Nature Human Behavior, the researchers created their own unique video game starring a child and his flying pet, named Raku. Both completed various tasks to win the game. The researchers made sure their game was devoid of any type of violence that often accompanies action video games.
To test the effectiveness of their game, the researchers split 150 children, aged 8 to 12, into two groups. One group played the new game developed by the researchers, which required children to perform tasks within a time limit. These tasks included making noises or remembering a sequence of symbols. The tasks increased in difficulty according to the player’s participation. The other group of children played a control game, called Scratch, which taught coding. Scratch required players to manipulate objects and use problem-solving to reach the desired program sequence. Both groups played the games for six weeks, with two hours of game time per week. The scientists took weekly tests on the players, studying reading comprehension and attention span.
Outlook: Action Video games can Boost Learning
From their analysis, the researchers found significant improvement in reading comprehension when playing the team-developed game compared to the control game. According to first author Angela Pasqualotto, a Ph.D. candidate from the University of Trento: “We found a seven-fold improvement in attention control in the children who played the action video game compared to the control group.” The impacts of the action video game were also more long-lasting. “What is particularly interesting about this study is that we carried out three further assessment tests at 6 months, 12 months, and 18 months after training. On each occasion, the trained children performed better than the control group, which proves that these improvements were sustained,” added Pasqualotto.
This study illustrates the powerful effects that video games can have on children’s learning abilities. For parents, it’s important to pick the right action video game for children, as studies show that violent video games cause children to think and behave more aggressively. Action video games can help teachers and parents immensely with education. Perhaps school curriculums will normalize gaming as a way of learning in the future.
Kenna Castleberry is a staff writer at the Debrief and the Science Communicator at JILA (a partnership between the University of Colorado Boulder and NIST). She focuses on deep tech, the metaverse, and quantum technology. You can find more of her work at her website: https://kennacastleberry.com/