May 11 2022

Game-Based Learning Prepares K–12 Students for a Digital Future

Through culturally relevant themes and virtual interactions, students learn to explore the world, their social relationships and how games work.

As educators seek tools for online environments, one of the solutions they’re increasingly turning to is game-based learning. One of the best ways for students to learn is through play, and growing up in a digital world, they are already playing video games outside the classroom.


The percentage of children (those under 18) who play video games

Source: Entertainment Software Association, “2021 Essential Facts About the Video Game Industry,” July 2021

Bringing learning to students in a format with which they’re already familiar can help K–12 educators deliver important lessons. Video games can be used to teach students about the complex problems in the modern world, and they can teach students how to be better prepared for the future.

Interacting with the game itself, and with peers through the games, can teach students skills that will be necessary in a digital future.

DISCOVER: Pandemic-era technology continues to add value in K–12 classrooms.

Game-Based Learning Provide Dynamic Content with Modern Context

In addition to the importance of play, one of the benefits of bringing video games to a K–12 classroom is the opportunity to frame lessons with recent, real-life examples.

“Video games allow for a dynamic learning curriculum,” says Stanley Pierre-Louis, president and chief executive officer of the Entertainment Software Association. “When you have a structured curriculum that has a textbook, the changes come slowly over the years. Game makers can write and update games flexibly with respect to current events and learning goals.”

Minecraft: Education Edition is one of the games educators can turn to for breaking down today’s complex challenges into a digestible, teachable format for students.

Minecraft has released education edition games such as Good Trouble: Lessons in Social Justice and Active Citizen, which teach students about civil rights movements and Nobel Peace Prize laureates, respectively.

These games allow students to explore guided lessons before attempting to find their own solutions in the game’s “sandbox mode.” This setting encourages players to find solutions to complex and open-ended problems akin to those they just learned about.

“Once they’re done with the game play, Minecraft allows students to build solutions to problems within the game,” says Arana Shapiro, managing director and chief learning officer at Games for Change. “They can try new things in a way that they might not be able to in real life. They’re able to take on different perspectives, do complex problem-solving. They’re able to work collaboratively and think systemically, and all of those things are able to happen in their classroom, playing a game.”

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Game-Based Learning Teaches Students Digital Citizenship Skills

Video games don’t only help teach to the school’s curriculum, however. They also teach students to interact with one another — and the artificial intelligence within the game — to develop skills that will help them succeed in a future that is already moving toward a digital landscape.

“A lot of the tech giants are reorganizing their businesses to start inventing the metaverse,” says Allison Matthews, head of Minecraft Education at Microsoft. “From our perspective, the metaverse already exists in places like Minecraft or in other video games where people are meeting in a virtual space, creating the world they want to live in and having the adventures they want to have.”

As companies look to “the metaverse” as the next step in online social and business platforms, Matthews shares insight on the term. “Creating metaverses means creating many digital spaces where adventures can happen and people can connect or create together,” she says.

One of the ways to prepare students for this future is to introduce them to topics and challenges in a safe digital space. Video games provide a contained learning environment in which students can learn to interact with one another and the game.

Allison Matthews
Creating metaverses means creating many digital spaces where adventures can happen and people can connect or create together.”

Allison Matthews Head of Minecraft Education, Microsoft

“They’ll probably argue, and they’ll have to figure out how to work that out,” Matthews says. “Getting to have this conflict and figuring out how to communicate and collaborate and compromise to build something great together will give students context and skills they can then translate into the real world.”

In addition to the social skills students gain within these platforms, Matthews says one of her favorite experiences is when students try to break the game. She loves when they push the boundaries of what the game should do and “look under the hood” at the way the code and AI are working.

“There’s passion, there’s creativity, and they’re using this passion to fuel next-level exploration and thinking, which exactly is the point of having a game like Minecraft in the classroom,” she says.

Such behaviors show that the game and its design have sparked curiosity in the students, allowing them to learn through their attempts to take the game apart. This mindset can lead to students becoming coding experts or game designers themselves. On a basic level, it teaches them how to interact with AI technology and all the ways humans influence the digital world.

All of these skills are necessary to allow students to become good digital citizens in the future. Educators who have yet to bring games into the classroom may be surprised at what they can teach students, and what students can discover within themselves.

UP NEXT: Visual data helps educators create personalized learning plans.

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