4 Ways Video Games Can Encourage Learning

By: Joanne Oh

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We know from Part 1 how learning transfers from one context to another, and we know from Part 2 how to encourage this transfer more explicitly, but what makes video games in particular a productive environment for learning? Lieberman, Biely, Thai, and Peinado (2014) suggest four areas in which features of video games can sustain and encourage learning.

1. Motivation

Motivation is important for maintaining high engagement and persistence in learning tasks. In video games, storylines and challenges provide an inherent draw for players to move forward to the next task. After all, who hasn’t been hooked to a tv show or book because of the suspense of what will happen next? These storylines capture people on an emotional level, which helps retain motivation. Baranowski, Buday, Thompson, & Baranowski (2008) have found that the emotion of storytelling has an immersive power. It can capture attention and enhance memory. Garris, Ahlers, & Driskell (2002) have found that with the right instructional support, even reluctant learners may engage with educational video games on a cognitive and emotional level. If students are shown that learning is fun and engaging in a game, they may be more keen to engage with the subject matter in other environments, inside and outside of the classroom.

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2. Self-Efficacy

Self-efficacy is the belief in one’s ability to achieve a goal or outcome. In video games, players often have repeated, sometimes even unlimited, chances to try things out, learn from mistakes, and ultimately succeed. Such an environment is ideal for building skills and self-confidence. When Brown, et al. (1997) tested an interactive video game designed to improve self-care among youth with diabetes, they found an improvement in diabetes-related self-efficacy. Transfer this to educational video games: confidence in material presented in game could lead to confidence in the classroom.


3. Mindfulness and Self-Monitoring

Students who are mindful of their learning process have a better chance of transferring their learning to new contexts. To further improve this chance, Mayer (1999) has found that students should keep track of their comprehension of material, organize information into concept groups, and combine new knowledge with prior knowledge held in long-term memory. Furthermore, he has found evidence which suggests that learning which occurs in game is more likely to transfer when that game guides learners’ cognitive processing and attention explicitly. In a study conducted by Moreno and Mayer (2004), students who had on-screen coaches speaking to them in a personalized style retained more information and performed better on problem-solving tasks in multimedia, game-based lessons. Video games have the potential to provide individualized coaching to students, encouraging them to reflect on their knowledge and learning processes.

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4. Metacognition

Metacognition occurs when students are aware of what they know and do not know: they realize that there are multiple ways of looking at a topic, and they have strategies for applying their knowledge to a given situation appropriately. Research has found that students who monitor their thinking process can transfer learning more successfully. According to Salomon and Perkins (1992), other conditions that lead to transfer of learning include comprehensive and diverse practice, explicit abstraction, and the use of metaphor or analogy. These are all conditions that video games can engage, given their capacity to personalize learning and present examples in a wide range of digital environments.


Video game technologies are making great advances which can help encourage skills and concepts necessary for learning. Moving forward, we can design games to enhance thinking and problem-solving skills and to teach transfer of learning more explicitly.

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