Games are an increasingly prominent part of modern life, so it is perhaps to be expected that they are increasingly utilised inside the classroom.

A 2014 study found that games were a growing part of the learning process, especially for younger children.

The use of games appeared highest amongst teachers of younger children, with 79% of grade 3-5 teachers claiming to use them on a weekly basis.  The study suggests this is more to do with the availability of suitable games for this audience than any preference amongst teachers.

The benefits of games for learning

A recent study from the University of Bristol highlights the benefits games can have on learning.  The study used brain-imaging technology to show that playing video games can involve the same area of the brain used to support learning.

The study is linked with a larger study that involves 10,000 secondary school pupils from across the UK.  The paper reveals that the gamification of learning can actually reduce activity in the part of the brain that is believed to be responsible for our mind wandering.

When the students tried to learn using more traditional methods, such as reading notes or looking at practice questions, this part of the brain was activated very strongly.  This activity vanished completely when the students engaged with a competitive game, with a subsequent improvement in their ability to learn.

“Technology has a reputation for doing bad stuff to children’s brains but it’s important that we don’t demonise it. This is evidence that computer games can be good for learning if we are careful about how we design and develop them,” the authors say. “For the first time we can actually see what learning through games does in the brain.”

Participants in the study were required to undertake three different type of study session at the same time as having their brain scanned.  During the sessions, the students were given various questions to test their progress, with one group given traditional multiple-choice questions, whilst the other asked to play a video game that tested their knowledge.

The team now hope to test out their theory in real class based environments and have secured funding to do so via the Wellcome Trust and the Educational Endowment Foundation.