When it comes to the latest trends in e-learning design, gamification keeps coming up as the optimal solution to make the content entertaining and easily remembered. But gamification is just one way to go.
Video games have evolved a lot since they first started and are today among the most popular pastimes of the modern man. If at first these games were terribly simple, they quickly became very complex immersive worlds that not only entertain and engage but do a lot for the player’s cognitive development.
Furthermore, they bring billions in revenues and have recently started to be acknowledged by the artistic community as well as a form of artistic expression. Institutions as prestigious as the Smithsonian are displaying them thus recognizing the value and importance they have in modern society.
Video games – good or bad?
Still, there are those who claim that video gaming is rather harmful with no positive effects whatsoever. While it is very true that too much of this activity is detrimental to social life, eye health and some other aspects, it stands true for pretty much everything – excess is never good.
One glass of good wine will put your blood in motion, one bottle might give you the mother of all headaches. One cat does wonders for lowering blood pressure, two cats are cute, twenty cats are an indication one should find a professional to talk to. It’s the same with gaming – a moderate time spent on this activity has many benefits while countless hours dedicated to playing them are definitely not good.
The neuroscience of video games
Since there is hardly the risk of too much learning in the workplace (because actual work needs doing) employing game mechanics and actually gamifying some of the content is a safe bet.
Researchers found that although there is a multitude of reasons why games induce such a high level of engagement, most of these reasons have to do with reinforcement. Basically, humans are wired to perform the actions that result in some reward or manage to fulfill some basic need.
And in depth behavioral research shows that games are capable of providing solutions for a variety of basic psychological needs. These include autonomy (the belief that one has control over his or her own actions and decisions), competence (the belief that one has the level of skill necessary to achieve goals), and relatedness (the feeling that one is socially connected with other human beings – this may sound ironic since video gaming takes the individual away from actual interaction but it goes to show the level of immersiveness these games manage to achieve).
Cognitive benefits of video games for adult learners
There are many types of video games and even though they are similar in the immediate response the human brain gives to them, they have different benefits. When including games into the learning modules, instructional designers should be aware of these and pick the most appropriate for their goals:
- Playing action video games improves reaction time, without decreasing accuracy;
- Playing action games improves the ability to process video information – identifying what is important while being able to ignore irrelevant distractors;
- Playing first-person shooters improves mental flexibility – increases the ability to rapidly switch from task to task and deal in a constructive way with any changes;
- Playing 3D video games improves both recognition ability and spatial memory;
- Playing video games in general has a positive impact on attention span and multi-tasking ability;
- Playing action video games , especially eye-hand coordination;
- Playing action games improves the capacity to rapidly move from visual to auditory attention which proves very valuable when it comes to reading abilities and information processing;
- Playing video games with a physical component have a positive effect on executive functions, attentional processing, and spatial visualization skills;
- Playing video games where one needs to cooperate with other players increases positive social behavior and teamwork.
One thing is definitely clear: since they first appeared roughly seventy years ago (according to Wikipedia, the first interactive electronic game with an electronic display appeared in 1947) video games have developed into some very effective learning tools. They manage to deliver highly efficient and transferable learning.
All in all
There is a lot of academic literature to show that video gaming brings about improvements in a wide variety of perceptual, attentional, and cognitive abilities. They are much more than entertainment for the end user and a big money maker for the creators.
The potential video games have for positive improvements of the brain ranges from teaching young children to perform complex tasks, training workplace professionals to become more efficient in their jobs and even helping elders with the fight against dwindling mental capacities.