Monday, 28 January 2013

Apps, Education and Games Based Learning

Tablets and smart phones are becoming increasingly popular amongst educators.  The availability and sheer number of educational apps makes them almost irresistible to many teachers today.  Most apps aim to teach children (and adults) in a fun and games based way.  This post will have a look at the app phenomenon that is occurring, look into why apps and tablets are so popular and point you in the direction of a couple of lists of good educational apps out there (including free ones).

The Benefits

That info graphic gives some statistics of app, tablet and smart phone usage in education.  It also suggests some reasons for their popularity.  Another list from Teach Thought argues that the ‘iPad Revolution’ means that learning will never be the same again.  They argue that the reasons for this are that iPads:

  1. Are simple to use – they are intuitive and are difficult to break (in terms of software), so you can let young children loose with little cause for concern.
  2. Have a wealth of apps – iPads (and other tablets) offer a huge amount and variation of apps that are child friendly and suitable for education.
  3. Make learning fun – most educational apps come in the form of a simple game or a fun puzzle.  Children are more likely to want to play with the apps and they might not even realise the educational value of what they are doing.
  4. Are not just for kids – there are lots of apps aimed at older students and adults, both educational or not.  For example, here is a list of 10 iPhone apps for medical students (

Eve argues that: “The iPad has the potential to change education for the better, making learning more enjoyable and engaging while giving both teachers and parents the tools needed to provide a fuller, more rounded education to their child. It could one day replace textbooks and computers altogether as an all-in-one learning device.”

The Technology Enhanced Learning Research Group, lead by Kevin Burden from the University of Hull, investigated the use of iPads at eight schools in Scotland.  The research found that teachers using iPads changed their approach to teaching.  Pedagogical shifts included:

  • More collaboration
  • More creative expression
  • A strong learning community
  • Better support for students of all abilities
  • Students take it upon themselves to teach and coach each other
  • Higher quality of teaching perceived by students
  • Teachers give better feedback to students about their learning

The study also found that "personal 'ownership' of the device is seen as the single most important factor for successful use of this technology."  Ownership is fundamental for increasing students levels of motivation, interest, and engagement, promotes greater student autonomy and self-efficacy and encourages students to take more responsibility for their learning.

Still a bit unsure?

Many educators are nervous for one reason of another about bringing tablets into their classrooms.  This excellent article from Edudemic answers ten of the biggest questions about iPads in the classroom.
This document, ‘Getting Started: Classroom ideas for learning with the iPad’ is a resource booklet for schools which includes tips on how to integrate tablets, ideas on how to use the tablets and how to collaborate online.

So What Apps are Out There?

The We Want Apps App is a good place to start if you are looking for educational apps.  You can search for apps by category for children up to age 14.  The link above also gives information of a few apps specifically designed for special needs students.

This great article from InformED gives a list of 20 apps (games) for play based learning.  Apps are a great way for children to reap the benefits of games based learning from an early age and this list covers a wide range of subjects.

This list covers a wide range of free educational apps.  They have been categorised into different subject areas as well as different platforms: iPad and Android.

Playful Learning have created a list of ’10 Math Apps for the Little Ones’ and HowStuffWorks have created this list of ’10 iPad Apps for Teaching Kids to Read’.

That covers most bases, but it is inevitable that many more apps will be produced over foreseeable future, so it is a good idea to stay as up to date as you can if this area interests you.  There is a wealth of information available online and lots of it can be found on Pinterest.  Have a look at our ‘Technology in Education’ board for more information, advice, lists of apps and so on.

And don’t forget to follow @paulladley on Twitter and like games-ED’s Facebook and Google+ pages for blog updates and other interesting games based learning things.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

The Past, Present and Future of Playing and Learning with Technology

The importance of play to a child’s development is extremely well documented.  Research done by the likes of Piaget and Vygotsky argue that play is essential for proper development.  Research suggests that 75% of brain development occurs after birth and that playing influences the pattern of and connections between nerve cells which allows the development of many skills including motor skills, problem solving skills and learning ability.  Article 31 of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child specifically recognises the significance of play in children’s lives, distinct to their right to recreation and leisure.

So, play enhances learning.  But how has play changed over the past decade or so, with the advancement of technology?  And what effects does this have on learning and education?  This infographic from Lego shows just how play has changed.  It is easy to see the parallels between the changing nature of play and the direction that education is going down.

The Past and Present


How else is technology changing the face of play and learning for children today?  As this article explains, the rapid improvements in technology are having a profound impact on education for children with disabilities, often using games.  I have mentioned in a previous post about the amazing learning benefits of the Kinect for children on the Autism spectrum.

This year will see the launch if the new SimCity.  However, GlassLab has partnered with EA to build SimCityEDU, a version of the game specifically designed for education purposes.  The developers have appreciated the benefits of and demand for games based learning in education and have followed the likes of Portal2 in creating a game for schools.  We might just see a lot more game developers following suit in the future.

More and more teachers and schools are realising the benefits of games based learning.  However, one school in Sweden has made the playing of Minecraft a compulsory part of their curriculum for 13 year olds.  See my post ‘Unorthodox Uses of Games in Education’ for more information about Minecraft in schools.  The school has appreciated the far reaching benefits of games based learning.  A few of the ‘lessons learnt’ are environmental issues, city planning, creativity and computer skills.  Is this the future of education?

The Future

The Institute for the Future believes that this is the future of play for children:

  1. Authorship, storytelling, fantasy, and role-playing will expand into new media.  Children’s content will increasingly be created by children (already prevalent with reviews on YouTube and so on).  The Institute for the Future argues that “Growing up immersed in virtual worlds, social networks, and YouTube videos, children will develop a different set of expectations for evaluating human proximity and presence, as well as a comfortable confidence expressing their views across various media.”
  2. Play will be a more fluid material experience, blending the virtual and the physical.  Reinforcing what the earlier infographic mentioned, children will increasingly expect their toys, games and virtual platforms to interact.  The Institute believes that “By 2021, kids will expect their digital and physical objects to share more characteristics, including tangibility and connectivity.”
  3. Toys show kids how to get emotional with technology.  MIT professor Sherry Turkle places us at a “robotic moment” in history.  This is characterised by our emotional readiness to attach to inanimate objects, which she argues will go on to provide more friendship and the “comfort of connection without the demands of human intimacy.”  Sociable robots, such as the new incarnation of Furby, encourage our children to care for and nurture them, ultimately “creating more powerful and affective human-machine partnerships”.

These new technologies will clearly unlock more and more skills in children and will bring with them a multitude of learning benefits.  However, as children’s expectations adapt to these new technological features of play, it begs the question, will these new technological advances feed into the education system?

Please follow @paulladley on Twitter, games-ED on Pinterest and like games-ED’s Facebook and Google+ pages for blog updates and other interesting games based learning things.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Learning Simulations, Retention and Neuroscience

One of the most important things when teaching or training someone or learning something for yourself must be whether you are going to remember it; otherwise, what would be the point?  To retain taught knowledge makes the time, energy and money spent learning the materials worthwhile – Return on Investment.

A learning simulation is essentially a reproduction of a situation or event, which can allow people to learn by doing (see our post on Games Based Situated Learning).  For example, one of our simulations focuses on the running of a town.  The delegates are split into teams that must work together to build a sustainable community.  In this scenario, the learning game simulates a town and the resource management necessary to ensure its success.  For more information click here.

The Learning Pyramid (Mororola University, 1996) shows how learning simulations can greatly enhance long-term knowledge retention.  It explains how participatory learning such as practising by doing (learning simulations) and teaching others are far superior to passive learning such as lecturing or reading.  In fact, practising by doing is fifteen times more effective, in terms of retention, than lecturing.  The research suggests that people retain 75% of what they are taught when practising by doing.  Similar figures are present for studies looking at experiential learning, learning by doing and so on.

Adapted from the original 1996 Learning Pyramid.

This article titled ‘Learning and Memory: How do we remember and why do we often forget?’ explains how we learn and remember at a neurological level.  If this area interests you, you might want to read our blog post, ‘Neuroscience, Stress and Games Based Learning’.  Kenneth explains how learning from passive methods such as lectures and reading is often ineffective, not because we forget the information, but because it was never deemed important enough to encode in the first place.  He explains how emotions play an important part in us encoding information and explains that “Learning experiences become more memorable when social-emotional memories are part of the learning event, which is why cooperative learning is such a powerful memory-enhancer in schools”.  Learning simulations are not always played collaboratively, but many are and especially those used for training and teaching.  This is one of the reasons that makes the information retainable.

Kenneth also quotes Stanford Ericksen in saying, “Students learn what they care about and remember what they understand.”  Kenneth explains that to successfully encode information, people must see how it is useful, or why would they bother storing it?  They must also properly understand the information to begin with.  Therefore, for information to be stored and later retrieved, it must have long-term value to the person remembering it and they must be able to understand the information to begin with.  Learning simulations provide a very comprehensive way of disseminating information and due to the emotional and often collaborative nature of playing games, the information is likely to be remembered.

Kenneth explains that “Reading does not necessarily lead to learning. Doing, engaging in two-way discourse and thinking will aid learning and memory; however, when students are doing, playing with objects, exploring, experimenting, talking, drawing, writing, listening, reading, speaking, applying and reflecting on all of these, neural pathways for learning develop inside the brain”.  This sums up why learning simulations work so well.  They make use of most of these categories and if they sit in a wider course or lesson teaching the same materials, all of the categories are likely to be touched upon.  Basically, another reason why learning simulations aid retention is because they allow people to encode the material in different ways.  This is especially helpful for people with different learning styles (see ‘Games based learning supports multiple learning styles’).

The article also explains how people may remember learning facts and lists at school.  Kenneth argues that this emphasis on remembering facts rather that how to use the information usefully and intelligently is not adequate.  He argues we need to make greater use of 21st Century Learning.  Have a read of our article: ‘21st Century Skills and Games Based Learning’.  The 21st Century presents us with different challenges to the past and the focus on the service and technology industries as well as the need for some sort of environmental saviour means people need 21st Century Skills.  People having been brought up in this era also think in fundamentally different ways, therefore learning by lectures and reading will become less and less adequate and methods such as learning simulations and games based learning are likely to become more prevalent.

Essentially, it boils down to the Chinese proverb of Confucius:
"I hear and I forget.
I read and I remember.
I do and I understand.”

Please do follow @paulladley on Twitter, games-ED on Pinterest and like games-ED’s Facebook and Google+ pages for blog updates and other interesting games based learning things.