Playing games are one of the oldest tools for learning. One can easily verify this claim by watching kids naturally play and learn about social norms. When a kid grows to an adult however, higher institutions claim that games need to be put away for more informed methods of learning. That claim may based on traditional thinking rather than educational theory.
A game is a competitive activity according to a set of rules (Dictionary.com). This activity can inform the learning process when it includes appropriate andragogical methods. When games are used in educational settings it creates an active learning environment that promotes exploration, experimentation, competition, and co-operation (Westera, Nadolski, Hummel, & Wopereis, 2008). As students are faced with ill-defined problems in a game it causes the students to discover multiple solutions through appropriate tools and fellow learners (Ibid, 2008). Therefore, games can mimic many other informed methods of learning like constructivism or problem-based learning (Kirkley, Tomblin, & Kirkley, 2005).
Using games within higher intuitions must be based on appropriate learning models. Robert Gagne identified three principles for learning that games can properly fulfill:
- Provides instruction on the component tasks that build to a final task;
- Ensuring each component task is mastered;
- Sequencing the component tasks to ensure optimal transfer to the final task (Gunter, Kenney, & Vick, 2006).
Games are structured so that each educational task can properly scaffold to more a expert-level of cognition.
Additionally, James Keller proposed a motivational model to learning called the ARCS model. This model relies on four foundational categories that help inform instructional design. The model states that each instructional activity should have elements of:
- Attention – The ability to gain and keep the student’s attention;
- Relevance – The student needs to understand how the material relates their situation;
- Confidence/Challenge – The activity needs to properly challenge the student;
- Satisfaction/Success – The activity must maintain a student’s self-efficacy towards learning (Gunter, Kenney, & Vick, 2006).
Some might say that traditional institutions do not provide that motivational framework, but instead rely on repetitive teaching practices that promote rote learning and lack materials that relate to the real world situations (Kirkley, Tomblin, & Kirkley, 2005). One can hopefully envision that a game can and do provide motivation that can lead to cognitive engagement.
Games can and should be used within professional military education (PME). The ability for students to learn within this active environment helps promote and practice the many tools they will learn within a traditional classroom environment. The safe environment that a game provides can foster trial and error learning that provides experiential learning to the PME process. The competitive nature of games can motivate students to gain knowledge, while the analytic nature of games can help institutions analyze the status of learning outcomes. Contrary to traditional higher institutional claims, games can and should inform the learning process.