We’ve covered key takeaways from the 2016 Games for Learning Summit and the recent progress of the learning games community, so now it’s time to talk about where more work is needed. We identified three broad areas of challenge and opportunity that were frequently discussed and debated at Summit sessions, and require the collective expertise and effort of the community to help address.
- Numerous challenges remain for large-scale adoption of learning games in the K-12 space. One major concern was keeping up with rapidly changing technology available on the market as well as what is available in schools. David Langendoen, president of Mission US maker Electric Fun Stuff, succinctly captured this sentiment when he self-mockingly described his company’s thinking when they first started out, “We’ll build [the game] in Flash so it’s future proof!”. There are also structural limitations inherent in the school day that prevent immersive and substantive game experiences, such as length of classes, available technology, and the pressure to adhere to standards.
- Despite clear signs of progress for and general enthusiasm about learning games, a feeling of insecurity about the credibility of games for education permeated the Summit. This insecurity manifested itself in a few ways. First, nearly all the presentations began by describing how games align with learning theory, educational pedagogy, or human development. It is clearly useful to acknowledge these critical arguments for educational games, particularly for newcomers. However, given the high level of comprehension among the audience and the finite time designated for each presenter, the review of why games began to feel redundant and unnecessary. The second way this manifested was in the expert brainstorm held at the conclusion of the Summit. At the start of the brainstorm, experts agreed immediately that we know students can learn from games. However, when asked about the challenges ahead they also agreed that games have a credibility problem. This contradiction is interesting and will require additional work to identify who needs to know what the community has already learned, and how to educate them.
- More research is needed. Speakers across the conference championed the importance of formative research of many types, including user testing, efficacy testing, engagement testing, market research, and prototyping. There is a near ubiquitous agreement that including user feedback early and often is critical. Panelists also agreed that there was plenty of support for using games to provide teachers with formative feedback about their students to aid instruction and support.
However, there were still very few examples of games with demonstrated impact on learning. Impact is difficult to measure and requires a theory of change, an understanding of how students master content, and collaboration with researchers. This collaboration will be critical both for evaluation research that is embedded and aligned with game objectives, but also to make sure that research can better keep up with the advances of games and gaming technology.*
We’d love to hear if there are additional accomplishments to celebrate as we develop an agenda to build towards next year’s Summit. Please share any other milestones, moments, or accomplishment that we left out by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
*For more on this topic, check out the Game Impact project, which seeks to develop a typology of impact to improve stakeholder collaboration and align design with evidence and research across disciplines. This initiative brings together leaders from different domains, including academia, civics, learning, health, and game design.
View the full schedule of the 2016 Games for Learning Summit at: http://gamesforchange.org/festival/program/?type=Games+for+Learning+Summit
Videos of sessions, workshops and keynotes are available on the G4C YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/gamesforchange