Game learning has a huge potential to change the way we learn. By introducing learning topics in a way that is intrinsically appealing to people, we can build a bridge from what may initially be a state of non-interest to excitement about learning. We believe these bridges to the love of learning should not be the privilege only of the wealthier countries or schools.
To test how learning games work in more challenging settings, we started together with Finn Church Aid a research project in Uganda and Cambodia to test game learning in rural school settings in developing countries. We think this project is important for two reasons.
First, it puts learning games to the test in establishing whether they have efficacy in a setting where even the most rudimentary learning materials are often lacking. Second, it pushes the curve in accelerating the introduction of next generation learning materials to these countries. If successful, introduction of digital and game learning to developing countries can be a significant equalizer in opportunity to study and learn.
In November, we visited two schools near Battambang, Cambodia, to do some initial testing on how the schoolkids react to learning games. Like in Uganda last summer, we handed out tablets to small groups in the classroom, opened Big Bang Legends and gave no other instruction. In addition, we distributed Periodic Table sticker books to small groups. Once again, no instruction was given; we wanted to see whether the kids could sort it out themselves.
These were kids who had not yet started to study the Periodic Table. They had also never before played a mobile game. Seeing how quickly the kids figured out how to use the tablets and play the game was exciting. It took most of the groups less than a minute to figure out the basic gameplay mechanisms and to get going. The same went for the sticker books; the kids figured the periodic system out in no time using the traditional color codes. The enthusiasm the kids experienced in both the schools we tested the game and other assets was nothing short of magical.
Whether it was playing with the tablets or just interacting with the characters on the sticker books, the pupils were palpably excited by this brief introduction to physics and chemistry. They would have easily spent the entire hour just playing Big Bang Legends and sticking the atoms to the Periodic Table. As we’ve only published fifty of the hundred or so atom designs we’ve made, we included a blank sheet of stickers with the sticker books. One pair of girls ended up starting to design their own atoms before we ran out of play testing time.
The next phase in the project will be to deploy game learning tablets to the four schools – two in Cambodia, two in Uganda – and to conduct academic research on the efficacy of learning games in these schools over the span of three months. Our goal is to see whether game learning could provide a key piece in advancing learning in these challenging settings.
In our testing through the years we have come to believe that learning games can be a missing link in creating excitement and enthusiasm towards learning – to engender truly fun learning. Creating pathways from the naturally exciting to more demanding and difficult topics is effectively a way to create context and to engender motivation to learn.