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Growth, Grit, and Gaming: Video Games in Education

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How gamifying education helps to build grit and a growth mindset for students
Students playing video games

Growth, Grit, and Gaming: Video Games in Education

Recent studies show over 90% of American children play video games. Ask a parent their opinion of children and “gaming” and you’re likely to get a response about the amount of time kids are wasting. Additionally, many educators express concern about the negative impact of gaming, but some researchers are working to change these perceptions, especially around the idea of gaming and education. 

“Children tend to be more engaged in learning when we incorporate gaming into lessons,” expressed Patrick Efird, a curriculum game designer at educational technology provider Imagine Learning. 

And Efird would know. A self-declared video game aficionado, Efird taught middle school for five years. “I incorporated video games into the classroom whenever possible,” he explained. “My students loved the gaming components of their learning and I believe it helped them dig deeper into the material, retain what was being taught, and develop a belief that they could learn if they worked hard at something.”

Growth Mindset and Gaming

Efird isn’t alone in his beliefs. Scholar Carol Dweck found that video games can play an important role in supporting growth mindset, or the belief that an ability to learn is not fixed but can grow with effort. 

In Dweck’s research, students who played a video game with rewards for productive struggle stuck with the game longer, were more engaged, and used more strategies than students who received traditional “level completion” rewards. 

Video game experts believe video games can support growth mindset in a variety of ways.

  1. Leveling up. Students are feel a sense of accomplishment when they reach goals, and are motivated to endlessly engage in video games as they advance, learn, and achieve in the program.
  2. Learning from mistakes. Games are a safe place for students to make mistakes, learn, and ultimately succeed over time. 
  3. Visualize growth and progress. Games utilize features such as maps, treasure hunts, and statistics to show a player where they have the potential to progress. Visualizing where a player can go motivates them to continue trying.
  4. Experiencing growth. Students experience growth as they have opportunities to evolve, take on new abilities, or earn add-ons when they stick with their task in the game. 
  5. External rewards. Students who persist at tasks receive rewards for trying, motivating them to keep striving.
  6. Real-life growth. Apps with game-like elements, such as Fitbit or Happify, transfer growth to real life by tracking progress towards physical, emotional, and cognitive goals that benefit users.

Grit and Gaming

Video games can also help students develop “grit,” or the passion and perseverance to work towards long-term goals as described by Angela Duckworth, PhD. Some argue that video games develop grit as players “follow the rules, acquire and practice skills, and apply those skills to achieve specific goals.” 

Duckworth posits that “students may need help from supportive others to become comfortable with facing, accepting, and learning from failure.” Video games can play the role of the “supportive other” by incorporating positive messaging. 

Efird suggests that positioning messages in educational video games that “praise effort despite outcomes, show evidence of growth, and acknowledge players for tasks accomplished or improvements made” can support students to persist in pursuing tasks. Additionally, live-supports—such as online, certified teachers available to students using digital instructional programs—can provide needed support while fostering perseverance and determination.

Engaged Students Achieve

Ultimately, educators want to know students are learning and achieving.

Game-based learning engages students, and research has indicated strong correlations between student engagement and student achievement across all levels of instruction and subject areas.

Studies have also shown that when students are engaged in their learning, they are more focused, more motivated, and have more meaningful learning experiences. Educators agree, ranking “student engagement and motivation” as the highest driver of achievement, good attendance, good grades, positive behavior, high school graduation, and readiness for postsecondary education.

In the end, utilizing video games in education can be a powerful tool for teachers to engage students and help them learn and achieve. “I believe we can use video games in classrooms to help students learn that they can accomplish whatever they put their energy into,” shares Efird. “I know as a kid, I would’ve been even more engaged in what I was learning in the classroom if games were utilized. I’m pretty sure there are other students out there today who are just like me.”

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