Are serious games on tablets the answer to tomorrow’s educational needs?

As a parent with small children I’m keen that any use of technology is balanced between creativity and learning and ‘just for fun’. It’s not always easy to balance the time spent between the two when the iPad is in the hands of my youngsters, but I do try and at least fill it with ‘educational’ content.

So imagine to my surprise to find out there is a whole revolution around ‘Steve Job schools’ see http://www.educationforanewera.com/ where all books are replaced with the iPad! An iPad school if you like : http://www.businessinsider.com/steve-jobs-schools-revolutionize-education-ipad-2013-8

This we are told – is the new ‘better’ way to learn. We don’t need pen and paper or teachers, we just need iPads.  Right! And to somewhat add more fuel to the fire, the founder of that old Atari, Nolan Bushnell claims that our current education system is just broken, everyone goes at one speed and we are all stuck. And that his ‘serious games’ are going to improve education by a factor of 20 times!

That would imply that 1 year of Bushnell’s Brainbrush game based education system (see http://www.brainrush.com/ ) is enough to replace 20 years of our standard education. Having tried the platform I’ve come to the conclusion that Bushnell has lost his mind. Serious Games are so good at transferring knowledge Bushnell claims that we really don’t need teachers anymore.  But what kind of knowledge? Certainly the type of knowledge that BrainRush transfers is no what we’d call tacit knowledge, its a set of factoid – not that useful in the 21st century where my phone can look it up.

As a serious games practitioner and researcher I’m still quite sceptical that games by themselves are the answer. After all haven’t we heard all of this before with ‘laptops will replace books’ and ‘e-learning will replace physical classrooms’. The reality is far from this. E-learning has not replaced classrooms and serious games on tablets are not going to replace teachers either, but hopefully help teachers teach better.

Good teaching material, including games, simulations, videos etc can – if the teacher knows how to use them effectively (and that means providing teacher material – make a significant impact on the educational outcomes, but to make claims of being 20 times better is rather naive if not downright fantasy.

The trouble with today’s education we’re told is that it’s stuck in a one speed system – no matter how bright you are you are ‘forced to keep with everyone else’ and this we are told is holding us back. But this over simplification of the varied landscape of education is blind knowledge, not only countries with ‘one speed’ – like China – are thriving. But many western countries, with multi-speed education are failing, rather spectacularly.

Hysteria aside, the over reliance on technology to replace good teaching is absurd. It’s just another tool. But developers and researchers everywhere working on serious games take note – the future is tablet/mobile shaped with touch interactivity and not necessarily on a PC in a lab. If you haven’t already made the switch to ‘mobile first’ you are on losing ground. Here at PlayGen all our recent efforts assume ‘mobile first’, ‘social second’ and well all other uses next.

 As to the question on whether ‘serious games’ will play an even bigger role in education in years to come, I’m not sure. Certainly there will be even more technology in our schools – but my money is on a good teacher, not just a bigger selection of ‘educational content’ on the app store.

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