Published in the Review of Educational Research, researchers1 recently took a look at data surrounding video games and their affect on academic achievement. Their conclusion? Educational gaming may have some benefit for kids in the areas of history, language acquisition, and physical education (in exercise games) but there is inconclusive evidence that such gaming improve math or science.
Daniel Wiligham, Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, writes:
[The researchers] did try to cast a wide net to capture positive effects of gaming. They did not limit their analysis to random-control trials, but included qualitative research as well. They considered outcome measures not just of improved content knowledge (history, math, etc.) but also claims that gaming might build teams or collaborative skills, or that gaming could build motivation to do other schoolwork.
Making generalizations about the educational value of gaming is difficult because games are never played the same way twice. There's inherent noise in the experimental treatment. That makes the need for systematicity in the experimental literature all the more important. Yet the existing studies monitor different player activities, assess different learning outcomes, and, of course, test different games with different features.
The authors draw this rather wistful conclusion: “The inconclusive nature of game-based learning research seems to only hint at the value of games as educational tools.”
The number of studies reviewed in the research study was relatively small, only 39, particularly given that educational gaming has been around for quite a while.
Wilingham also notes that the review did not include any studies of simulations, which might have had more positive effects on math and science learning.
So the next time you are thinking about buying a so-called "edutainment game", consider this: there might not be as much benefit as you think. If they're going to spend time playing, their time might be better spent learning how to become a competitive Starcraft player.
OK, I made that last part up.