Games & Learning Research Reveals Need to Empower Educators

Last month I attended the annual Digital Media and Learning (DML) Conference at University of California, Irvine. 

DML 2017 was packed with interesting studies and perspectives from education, media and technology researchers from around the world. My schedule of sessions focused on what researchers have learned about games and learning.

These four themes emerged from my experience of the conference:

  • The role of failure in games (and the contrast of the experience of failure in traditional education)
  • The continued importance of experiential learning
  • How the learning experience includes not just the game, but the content and conversations surrounding the game
  • The need to empower teachers to implement the research and bring game-based learning into their classrooms

The Importance of Failure in Learning

This isn’t new research, but was certainly brought up again and again by researchers: the role that failure plays in games and learning. Greg Toppo and many others talk about it extensively; it’s experiencing and understanding our mistakes that create an avenue for the type of deeper learning that sticks.

“Failure is part of the fun.” - Craig G. Anderson, UCI

But failing in school work —for instance, getting a big red X! isn’t fun.

To bridge this, many speakers brought up how games help students (and teachers) see failing and making mistakes as part of the larger process of learning.





Designing for Experiential Learning

We know students learn better through active learning and figuring things out on their own. But how do we use that knowledge to design better digital and blended learning experiences?

Stanford Graduate School of Education, home to research centers such as YouCubed and DREME, is a hub for much of this knowledge base. At the conference, speakers Josh Weiss and Shawn Kim shared best practices they’ve gathered thus far around digital design for experiential learning. The design principles include:

  • Layered information stream
  • Natural visual patterns
  • Active learning and sense-making
  • Authentic feedback mechanism

If you’re familiar with ST Math, these design principles overlap with the four game mechanics driving deeper learning in math.



Connected Learning

Another interesting theme that emerged through the conference was how the learning experience is more than just the lesson or digital component. It's comprised of all the elements surrounding the experience: conversations, art, forums, data-mining, competitions, collaborations, mods.

“The game, plus the things outside of the game, create the community.” - Sean Duncan, Analog & Digital

One researcher noticed that the problems that players chose to find and solve were more engaging to players than the problems that the game designers built. Another wondered how we could apply this thinking to school, and think about school as a hub for all of these different elements surrounding the learning. 





Empowering Educators

Brought up again and again throughout the conference was the disconnect between research findings and what is happening at scale in classrooms across the country.

How can we educate and empower educators to implement practices that are research-based?

The answers were less clear on this question.





At MIND Research Institute, we strive to share research in this area with actionable insights for educators and education leaders in their classrooms, schools and community. Check out a few of our most popular and actionable articles, then subscribe to join the community. Let us know how you are incorporating education research into your classroom!

Calli Wright

About the Author

Calli Wright was the Marketing Manager at MIND Research Institute. She loves playing and designing board games, which she often talks about on twitter @CalliWrights.


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