Leveling Up Learning Through Video Gaming

Dec 11, 2023

Dr. Kris Alexander's TED Talk
Dr. Kris Alexander's TED Talk

In this case study, we will explore the powerful impact of video games on the world of academia. Inspired by a personal experience during his university days, Kris Alexander, now a professor of video game design, believes that video games have a lot to teach traditional education systems. By examining how video games cater to human learning, enhance online instruction, and provide clear objectives, Alexander uncovers valuable insights that can revolutionize the way we approach teaching and learning.

Overcoming Cognitive Overload

Alexander begins his presentation by discussing his experience with cognitive overload during a lecture, where the combination of audio elements, such as the spoken words of the lecturer, and visual elements, like the 'excessive texts on the professor's slides,' was overwhelming and made it difficult to absorb information. This kind of cognitive overload can occur when audio, text, and video elements used together are not distinct enough, leading to confusion and difficulty in understanding the material.

However, he found that playing video games during class actually helped him focus better. He was able to use the teacher's voice as a soundtrack for the game he was playing, effectively separating the two from each other. 

This experience highlights the first key point – video games are a complex blend of audio, text, video, and interactivity that intensifies focus and motivation.

Motivation and Immersion

Owing to their inherent fun and engaging nature, video games can ignite a level of motivation in students that is typically challenging for traditional classroom methods to match. This aspect of gaming, enhancing motivation, is crucial for effective learning. Alexander discusses utilizing a game called "Virginia" not only for teaching game design but also for delving into intricate subjects such as history, sexism, racism, corporate culture, and tokenism. This approach exemplifies how blending theory with practical application can provide students with a comprehensive and multifaceted educational experience.

Effective Online Instruction

With the shift to online learning, Alexander emphasizes the importance of finding effective strategies. He cites platforms like Twitch, where millions of viewers engage in video game streams, as potential tools for educational purposes. He explains that one of his favorite classes to teach is e-sports broadcasting, where he uses video games and software tools to instruct students on professional online presentation. He argues that schools should adopt similar techniques, akin to what he teaches and what platforms like Twitch use, to engage and connect with students globally in the digital age.

“That should be one of their objectives, shouldn't it?” he says.

Aligning Objectives with Careers

Alexander also questions the objectives of a post-secondary education and argues that traditional education systems are failing when it comes to preparing students for their chosen careers.

“More than 50% of graduates do not get jobs in their field of study.”

This situation is similar to someone training to become a chef, but then starting a career in data analytics upon graduation. 

By the way, free online programs, such as Grow with Google and Epic Games, provide pathways to lucrative careers in data analytics and game development, which typically offer above-average salaries. It's crucial to emphasize that these are either no-cost or nearly no-cost opportunities that connect students' passions with their future careers. In contrast, universities tend to be extremely expensive.

“The cost of university has gone up 1,200% since 1980.”

Video Games in Various Disciplines and Their Power 

The range of areas benefiting from video game technologies is very broad. To illustrate, dentists use augmented reality to view the roots of teeth, psychologists employ virtual reality for therapy to help patients overcome phobias, and broadcast technicians incorporate video game elements into live e-sports broadcasts, like a dragon flying over the stadium. These diverse applications lead to three key learnings about the potential of video games in education and other fields.

First, video games offer a blueprint for engaging education. They cater to different learning styles, incorporate complex stories, and dynamically adjust difficulty levels. With approximately three billion video game players worldwide, Alexander suggests that integrating video game elements into traditional classroom instruction could significantly enhance student engagement and comprehension.

Second, the potential of streaming platforms like Twitch, YouTube, and Netflix as effective channels for online instruction is notable, especially if schools learn from successful streamers' techniques to engage students.

Third, having clear objectives in education, similar to the explicit goals in video games, is essential. If schools can show students how their passions align with future careers, it could greatly increase motivation and focus. Alexander advocates for the next generation of teachers to connect study paths to professions through passion. By adopting these strategies in educational contexts, schools can better address the needs of students in the digital age.

In conclusion, video games have the potential to revolutionize education by enhancing engagement, motivation, and learning outcomes. This case study highlights the importance of catering to different learning styles, incorporating immersive and goal-oriented experiences, embracing online instruction, and aligning educational objectives with future careers. Educators can leverage video games and streaming platforms to create engaging and effective learning experiences for students. By adopting the principles and strategies from the world of video games, academia can evolve to meet the needs of the next generation of learners.

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