What should be the role of computer games in education?

From Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences (PIBBS)

Game advocates are calling for a sweeping transformation of conventional education to replace traditional curricula with game-based instruction. But what do researchers have to say about this idea and what is the role of policymakers? This study discourages an educational revolution based on gaming and encourages adding promising features to games in schools including heightened use of explanative feedback in games and relevant pregame activities.

The author surveyed research on game features that improve learning. He found five game features that substantially improve student performance. He also discussed the extent that gaming improves cognitive skills and found two types of games that lead to substantial improvements in specific cognitive skills.

“The major policy implication of this review of research on games for learning is that it is premature to call for a major overhaul of schools based on computer games: The research certainly does not warrant extensive replacement of current educational practices with practices based on computer games,” Mayer concluded.


Game advocates call for replacing conventional schooling with educational activities based on computer games. These claims were examined by reviewing published research on games for learning and then drawing policy implications. Value-added research shows that the most promising features of games use conversational language, put words in spoken form, add prompts to explain, add advice or explanations, and add relevant pregame activities. Cognitive consequences research shows that first-person shooter games improve perceptual attention skills. Media comparison research shows that games are more effective than conventional media for science learning. However, an educational revolution based on gaming is not indicated. Policy implications are to use games for targeted learning objectives, align games with classroom activities, avoid confusing liking with learning, and use games to adapt activities to maintain challenge. Research evidence informs decisions about educational games.


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Article details
Richard E. Mayer
What Should Be the Role of Computer Games in Education?
Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences March 2016 3: 20-26, first published on January 12, 2016 doi:10.1177/2372732215621311





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