Not just child’s play: serious mobile games for young adults
When learners need to commit information or techniques to memory, putting in the study time can feel like a chore.
On the other hand, well-designed games keep players of all ages coming back for more without begrudging the time spent playing. ‘Serious games,’ –so-called because they are designed with the serious intent of helping people learn – may be motivating enough to help people put in the study time, but why mobile games?
Studies show that spaced practice - learning little and often with breaks in between - works. We know mobile devices can support this well-evidenced approach to learning because we carry them everywhere and can make use of moments of 'found time' (when we have nothing else to do) to learn. We also know people tend to play casual mobile games little and often, for relatively short bursts of time. It follows that casual mobile learning games have to be potential to be effective learning tools.
Three mobile learning games that Epic created for workplace learners show how this approach can work for young adults undertaking apprenticeships.
Operation Numerika was created in 2008 to help army apprentices reach the required maths standard to continue their army careers. Rather than going back to barracks with printed worksheets of remedial maths problems, apprentices who were struggling could practice, with immediate feedback, by playing a maths game on the Nintendo DS.
Operation Numerika consisted of eight games, each focusing on different elements of the Entry Level 3 curriculum. Each game was divided into three levels, which become increasingly difficult. Within each level, players tackled a series of maths challenges, either by choosing options or writing the answer using the stylus. To encourage players to see the relevance of maths to their chosen career, the final level of each game placed maths problems in a real life Army situation.
Epic's vehicle mechanics game (shown below) followed similar principles, but was designed to help young people embarking on an electrical mechanics apprenticeship. As well as featuring a decision-making game which was played against the clock, the wider course employed techniques taken from games, such as points and levels to encourage learners to complete optional mini-tutorials and quizzes.
The balloon game shown below, designed for the PDA in 2005, was intended to help workplace learners master the unfamiliar vocabulary they needed to follow a course in finance. Terms floated up towards the definition at the top and players had to pop any terms which didn't match the definition before they got to the top. Failure to do so resulted in losing a life. A few rounds of this game quickly cemented the ability to remember definitions for a whole array of acronyms. This game, while not specifically aimed at younger workplace learners, could be effectively used to support apprentices learning trade vocabulary.
So what did we learn from these early mobile games?
Design: well-designed games have the potential to make repetitive elements of learning and memorisation more fun. All three games were very well received with pilot users in the target audience.
Distribution: be aware that the popular devices of today may not be the favoured devices of tomorrow. At Epic, we have moved to device agnostic design and delivery, allowing us to be sure that projects can be ported to newer mobile devices as they are released.
Rolling out a mobile project after a successful pilot is typically challenging as decisions must be made as to whether to supply all learners with the needed hardware (more costly with a larger group and over the longer term) or to ask them to provide their own (which raises issues of inclusion). Failing to plan for the challenges of wider distribution causes many promising initial pilots to fail to achieve wider uptake.
The good news is that as take up of smart phones grows, it may soon be possible to assume young adults in the workplace will have access to their own smart mobile device.
Imogen Casebourne is the Director of Learning at Leo Learning, formerly Epic Learning UK.
Nesta's games in education blog series seeks to encourage a wider discussion. To share your thoughts, ideas and questions, please comment below or tweet using #gamelearning