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Five proposals for improving the use of games for learning in the UK

As Nesta’s blog series on games and learning comes to a close, I’ve been struck by the abundance of hints, tips, and recommendations provided by our contributors.  

Resoundingly, the argument for using play and games to support learning seems to have been made. Yet while we do see instances of great learning supported by games, they remain exceptional – particularly when we look at digital games. It now remains for us to find ways of making game-based learning easier and (most importantly) better.

Taking a note from my colleagues’ predictive powers, I’d like to offer five scenarios for improving the use of games for learning in the UK.

Each one is inspired by many of the existing tools, activities and research we’ve encountered over the recent weeks. Hopefully these hypothetical ‘next steps’ can prompt us to consider what’s possible and plausible for linking up games and learning in the near future – and provoke some more serious discussions.

A cross-sector lab is established to experiment with new approaches to designing and using games in education. Good game design draws upon a wide range of expertise. Bringing together teachers, learners, developers, designers and researchers through a secondment or fellowship model, the lab offers a dedicated space for participants to collaboratively create, redesign, and experiment with games for educational use. Products or approaches developed within the lab are made available to UK schools to test and use.

This may sound ambitious, but similar models already exist. In the US, the Institute of Play’s GlassLab is bringing together diverse partners to design new models for games, learning and assessment. Meanwhile, Education Scotland’ Consolarium previously offered an experimental space for teachers to adapt commercial games for educational use. 

UK pupils compete in an annual educational games design challenge. Initiatives like UKIE’s Video Game Ambassadors  help schools to identify opportunities for incorporating game design in their curricula. Working in groups, pupils design games that help their peers learn subject material. These games are submitted to a national challenge run jointly by representatives from education and the games industry. Winners are selected according to game design and educational quality.

Game design and development competitions already exist in the UK, but none focus specifically on school-aged children and games for educational purposes. Only BAFTA Young Game Designers and the Games Britannia Schools Games Design Competition currently challenge UK pupils to design video games. Meanwhile, American students can submit educational game designs to the National STEM Video Game Challenge for individual prizes and funding for their school.

Schools pool resources to crowdfund educational games that address their needs. Instead of having to crowdfund projects independently or rely on contributions from individuals, schools jointly commission and procure games through crowdfunding. Through a dedicated platform, schools submit and sign up to games briefs based around learning challenges or subject areas. Developers and designers publicly respond to the briefs, which schools vote on by pledging funds.  Once initial funding is secured, the games are prototyped and evaluated in partnership with the supporting schools.

From raising funds for a school trip to pooling local funds to create an eco-classroom, schools have long relied on crowdfunding in various forms. Already, many crowdfunding platforms like PeopleFund.it, CrowdFunder and Sponsume offer dedicated sections for education projects, while other education specific crowdfunding sites continue to crop up. Could this approach be applied to joint commissioning and procurement?

A new rating system for educational games is developed to outline evidence and indicate where the game can be useful (and effective). Age ratings like the PEGI system already indicate the appropriateness of games for different aged children. What if such guidance could be extended to make the potential learning benefits of games more apparent?

Using a common set of evidence standards, producers specify what kind of evaluation their game had been subjected to, along with findings for different contexts. Not all games have a full gold standard evaluation to begin with (nor should they be expected to). Instead, games can cultivate their evidence rating through direct testing and evaluation with teachers and researchers (similar to Graphite’s review model) and by demonstrating links to wider research aggregated on hubs like Games and Learning and edugameshub.

Games are used to reengage NEETs with education and training. A series of high calibre games is developed to help young people not in education, employment or training (NEETs), develop a range of skills and knowledge. As the young people progress through the games, they receive recognition and endorsements for their learning, and are given access to subsequent learning or work opportunities.

In England, nearly ten per cent of 16-18 year olds are currently NEET. Successfully engaging such young people in further education or training is not simply a matter of provision but also one of motivation and value. As Dr Michael Levine pointed out, games can help to address the major educational challenges of engagement, literacy levels as well as job/skills gaps.

Already, serious and immersive games are an important training tool for a number of professions – including aviation, medicine and the military. When even McDonald’s has begun to incorporate gaming in their immense employee training programme, it’s worth considering how more playful learning and could attract and engage young people currently outside of mainstream education and training.


Kathleen Stokes

Kathleen Stokes

Kathleen Stokes

Senior Researcher, Social Innovation

Kathleen was a Senior Researcher leading on Nesta’s policy and research work in digital education and the collaborative economy. At Nesta, Kathleen researched and written various publi…

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