K-12 School Computer Networking/Chapter 25/Edutainment

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Now more than ever, there seems to be a great debate whether Edutainment, specifically, Digital Game Based Learning (DGBL) is effective in learning of K-12 students.

There are three factors that have brought public interest in games as learning tools:

  • ongoing research conducted by DGBL proponents as researchers have published dozens of books, articles, and studies on the subject
  • today’s “net generation” who have become disengaged with traditional classroom instruction
  • increased popularity of games

Intrinsic Educational Traits of Computer Games[edit]

Recently, some researchers (e.g., Gee, 2003; 2005; Squire, 2005; Prensky, 2006; Shaffer, 2006) have also argued that games’ underlying cognitive, social, and cultural features can offer various educative opportunities for learners. These are games’ intrinsic traits that promote learning in a constructivist fashion from these perspectives:

  • Motivational Perspective: fun and enjoyment are important as learners can be more relaxed, motivated and willing to learn. Malone (1980) gave his intrinsic motivation theory, which asserts that challenge, fantasy, control, curiosity, cooperation, recognition and competition are the most significant elements that make game-playing fun and engaging, and sustain players’ continual motives.
  • Cognitive Perspective: the traditional school curricula are often fragmented into small and unconnected pieces (Papert, 1993). The original intention is for making learning easier, but this usually ends up with depriving the rationale behind the knowledge itself, creating unrealistic learning contexts, and making learning boring. Learning should be an active process based upon concrete experience (Piaget, 1964). A well-designed game can do well in presenting near real-life contexts for individuals to acquire knowledge and skills unintentionally rather than deliberately (Gee, 2003).
  • Socio-Cultural Perspective: How to educate learners is not seen as how to build representations in each of their heads, but how to engage them in social practices (Lave & Wenger, 1991). Knowledge itself arises from social needs, fulfills social functions, and is tied inherently with cultural conditions (Cole, 1996). Thus, learning is not just a process of mastering facts, but rather, participating in socio-cultural practices. This requires learners to develop their own identity relative to others.

What is Edutainment?[edit]


The noun edutainment was made by Bob Heyman while producing documentaries for the National Geographic Society. It is used to refer to the use of small portions of eLearning used to deliver key messages in an entertaining manner. Edutainment is potentially a broad term which covers the combination of educational and entertainment use on a variety of media platforms including computer games. The term is quite elastic as a lot of games are put into this category, and game companies are so inclined as to strengthen the appeal for parents (Buckingham & Scanlon, 2002; Konzack, 2003). This software genre is designed and developed to focus on academic subjects. Education games can also provide students with experiences that simulate real life.

What is Digital Game Based Learning (DGBL)?[edit]

DGBL is an instructional method that incorporates educational content or learning principles into computer or video games with the goal of engaging learners. Applications of digital game-based learning draw upon the constructivist theory of education.

History of DGBL[edit]

Marc Prensky explains that the emergence of digital game-based learning came near the end 20th century along with a global technology boom. The recent generations of students in grades K-12 have lived their entire lives with access to technology. Because of this access to technology, Prensky argues that today’s students “think and process information fundamentally differently than their predecessors.” Teachers or “digital immigrants” now have to adapt to the language and learning styles of “digital natives,” the net generation students who have always been surrounded by technology. Prensky recommends that in order for teachers to adapt their instruction to meet the needs of students, they can employ computer or digital-based games as learning tools in the classroom. These games can be used in various subject areas and in a variety of ways.

Components of digital game-based learning[edit]

Digital game-based learning involves activities that can range from completing very simple tasks to the development of intricate problem-solving skills. According to Patricia Deubel, games can be categorized as “action, adventure, fighting, puzzle, role-playing, sports, and strategy.” (5) Deubel suggests that the following information should be taken into account when teachers are selecting games for students:

  • Students’ age, characteristics, gender, competitiveness, and previous gaming experience
  • The game’s target age level
  • Special need students
  • Gender and racial diversity
  • Number of simultaneous players
  • The role of the teacher
  • Too much competitiveness and the effectiveness of the difficulty level.

Deubel suggests that there are a few necessary components required for effective digital game-based learning.

  • The games must keep learning and engagement at a high level.
  • Rules and goals are also important components of a strong game-based learning program.
  • Teachers must make the outcomes of the games clear and provide immediate feedback.
  • Students have an interactive role not only with the game, but with other students as well.


We should not think of edutainment as a fixed genre but rather as different titles which share some problematic assumptions about motivation, learning theory, learning principles and game design while being produced, marketed and distributed differently than commercial computer games. The characteristics are:

  • Little intrinsic motivation
  • No integrated learning experience
  • Drill-and-practice learning principles
  • Simple gameplay
  • Small budgets
  • No teacher presence
  • Distribution and marketing

Education Theories & Pedagogy Used in the Field[edit]

Entertainment-Education uses a blend of core communication theories and fundamental entertainment pedagogy to guide the preparation of the programming. The major communication theories that influence Entertainment-Education include:

  • Persuasion Theory: (Aristotle, Petty, Cacioppo) Psychological characteristics effect the response of a person to messages. Also indicates the message and source factors that influence a person's response such as the credibility, attractiveness, and expertise of the source.
  • Theory of Reasoned Action: (Ajzen, Fishbein) Social influences effect behavior, including beliefs and perceived social norms.
  • Social Learning Theory: (Bandura) People learn by observing others and the consequences of their behavior. If the person so chooses, they then emulate the behavior by rehearsing the action, taking action, comparing their experiences to the experiences of others, and then adopting the new behavior.
  • Diffusion Theory: (Rogers) Behavior spreads through a community or group over a period of time. Television may plant the idea, but social networks reinforce it and cause it to grow.

Major education pedagogy involved with Entertainment-Education includes:

  • Relevance: Learning is more likely when people can see the usefulness of the knowledge they are given.
  • Incremental Learning: Learning is most effective when people can learn at their own pace.
  • Distributed Learning: (Fossard) Different people learn in different ways over different periods of time. It is important to present information differently so that people can absorb it.

Benefits and Effectiveness[edit]

According to Patricia Deubel, DGBL has the potential to engage and motivate students and offer customized learning experiences while promoting long-term memory and providing practical experience. Deubel suggests that in order for teachers to effectively use DGBL they must first find non-violent games that facilitate planning and problem-solving and relate to the curriculum. Deubel recommends role-playing, simulation, and adventure games because they often appeal to the development of more than just one skill. DGBL also provides a great tool for conducting educational research. DGBL attracts students of various demographic backgrounds. It also helps students set and work towards achievement of common goals, provide helpful feedback, and maintain records for measurement purposes. Furthermore, the interactive nature of video games stimulates learning and encourages participants to challenge new topics or knowledge. It can help students develop computer skills that they may need in a society that continues to develop technologically.

This process happens rapidly and often while the game is played, with immediate feedback. Games that are too easily solved will not be engaging, so good games constantly require input from the learner and provide feedback. Games thrive as teaching tools when they create a continuous cycle of cognitive disequilibrium and resolution (via assimilation or accommodation) while also allowing the player to be successful. There are numerous other areas of research that account for how and why games are effective learning tools, including anchored instruction, feedback, behaviorism, constructivism, narrative psychology, and a host of other cognitive psychology and educational theories and principles. Each of these areas can help us, in turn, make the best use of DGBL.

Critics and Challenges[edit]

Although education games are becoming more prevalent, they are no match for the quantity and the quality of games that are produced and are available solely for "entertainment" purposes. It is difficult for education games to compete because most education institutions cannot afford to finance such projects (Gros, 2003; Sawyer, 2004). According to Sawyer (2004), building a pedagogically sound game is expensive and time-consuming. It can cost between $500,000 and $2.5 million, and can take from 12 to 24 months to complete. Many commercial games require peripheral hardware or game devices such as the Xbox and also require a large block of time for players to complete. These criteria are not readily available to K-12 institution. In addition, education games are not designed and created to correlate with specific school curricula.

There are critics who object to the use of educational games. Two concerns are: the addictive nature of computer games and the violence that children are exposed to while playing games. According to Okan (2003), computer games are not culturally neutral. This has raised concerns among educators and the general public. They fear that technology is sweeping through all levels of education without the benefit of input from individuals who can help to shape and restrain this forward momentum.

By integrating technology into pedagogy, students learn cognitive and technological skills at the same time. More traditional parents and educators are skeptical of using technology especially edutainment software. They believe that if students are playing or being entertained they are not learning. They fear that technology will undermine learning processes, while at the same time encourage parents and teachers to spend scarce education dollars on technology. They suggest that this encourages a watering down of the learning process. Other concerns are that edutainment technology teaches students that learning does not require perseverance, reading critically, making connections between new information and what is already known, and that collaborating with peers is outdated and unnecessary. In other words, in addition to teaching the curriculum, technology has an unintended effect of discouraging serious learning (Okan, 2003).

Another argument against using computer games in education is the concern that technology will be used only for the sake of "using technology." Using technology does not guarantee academic success.

  • A study showed mixed results with regard to the impact of technology on learning outcomes. (McDonald and Hannafin 2003)
  • Using technology is a new approach to teaching and that teachers are trying to fit a new medium into traditional teaching methods. (Salomon 2002) Salomon suggests that traditional classrooms produce a better mastery of recalled information. Alternatively, less traditional technology and constructivist-based classrooms produce improved skills for developing questions, formulating hypotheses, and the ability to intelligently address new problems.
  • According to Okan (2003), the use of technology results in acquiring passive information in the form of entertainment rather than though the more challenging critical thinking process. It is argued that, when used effectively, digital games develop critical thinking skills through the process of active problem solving (Hostetter, 2002).
  • When student are having fun, they are motivated to persist for longer periods of time or to approach the learning activity more often. According to Rieber (2001), motivation is inseparable from learning and is considered by some to be the most important learning factor. When students are motivated, they spend more time on task and learning becomes an incidental part of the activity. Alternatively, some think that technology, although motivating, often diminishes the need to review prior knowledge, to strategize, to analyze, to make new connections and to engage in other high-level learning activities. However, through solving puzzles, conquering enemies, and creating digital cities and theme parks, students are categorizing, analyzing, and using prior knowledge for problem solving (Hostetter, 2002).

DGBL probably do teach children bits of things, but mostly edutainment is simple in its facilitation of learning experiences. Learning in relation to spelling and reading for pre-school and early school children may see some gains from edutainment. However, edutainment does not really teach the player about a certain area, but rather lets the player perform mechanic operations. This will lead to memorization of the practiced aspects but probably not a deep understanding of the skill or content – not really grasped by the student and although this may work for some limited areas, like spelling and reading, this is a quite limited scope. In general, this will result in weak transfer and application of the skills as it is not fundamentally understood, but only memorized as a mechanic action in the game environment (Gee et al., 2004; Jonassen, 2001; Schank, 1999).

There is also common agreement that edutainment fails to integrate the learning with the computer game. Hence, a change of focus in the learning experience from the educational part to the game part. This result in weak learning experiences especially if you consider the time-on-task issue – the player won’t spend a lot of time on educational experiences, but rather gain a lot of game experience. (Brody, 1993; Fabricatore, 2000; Facer et al., 2003; Vandeventer, 1997)

Overall the shortcomings of edutainment have created an overall negative attitude towards edutainment titles. There is, to put it mildly, widespread skepticism towards almost any aspects of edutainment.

Some Examples[edit]

River City: “multi-user virtual environment” game funded by the National Science Foundation and developed by programmers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Targeted at students in grades six through nine, River City looks a bit like Second Life and portrays how three diseases simultaneously affect health in a fictitious city. As students explore the ailments, they learn how disease is spread and the impact of human interactions far and wide.

Food Force: a U.N. produced game on the mechanics of food aid distribution, and Whyville, another game that takes place in a virtual world, each has about four million players, a number that far exceeds the number of students graduating each year with a bachelor’s degree in science, technology, engineering or math.

Learning Federation: Microsoft is bringing researchers and businesses together to develop a game-based computer learning environment to be used by classroom teachers. The idea behind this partnership is to take the same video-game technology that lets you virtually fly airplanes or build amusement parks, and use it for educational purposes. Microsoft has teamed up with several academic partners, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to build some prototypes. Some prototypes include:

  • One CD focuses on a bio-hazard attack in a city and how an emergency team would respond.
  • Another CD explores engineering principles as students have to rebuild the world on another planet after Earth is evacuated.
  • A third one has students build houses in unusual places, such as under the ocean or suspended in air. As in popular computer games, students can use different "virtual" tools, like a crane, to help complete their quest.

Age of Empires (history), Sim City (engineering & geography), CSI (criminal justice & forensic science), Tycoon series (business, economics, and management) are also known as educational games.


We are past the point of questioning whether or not DGBL is good for learning. The inclusion of computer games within formal learning is a necessity and should be commonplace. It is really an issue of curriculum and teaching methodology rather than a technological issue. Technological moderating factors can be overcome, what is more important is that teachers are able to align the use of computer games with their existing notions of pedagogy and their approaches to learning. To do this the negative perceptions of games playing needs to be challenged, teachers who do understand the potential of games need to work with those who don’t and the use of games in learning needs to be legitimized by dialogue with organizations and parents.

Teachers may need to recognize that games promote interactivity and problem solving skills and adjust their pedagogies accordingly but more than anything it is the social status of games that needs to be recognized within the formal environment alongside the skills that learners can accrue from playing those games. Schools and teachers need to adjust their pedagogical approaches rather than looking at wholesale curriculum redesign and look for areas of transfer that can be planned into lessons to maximize the learning potential available to them, not only of computer games but also of other ubiquitous technologies that can aid learning and break the boundaries between 21st century bedroom and 20th century classroom. DGBL is opening up new potential for learning in formal situations and in innovative ways. The emergence of DGBL is offering the learning and teaching communities new opportunities to reach and motivate hard-to-engage learner groups, support differentiated and personalized learning, address vocational and training-based course materials and provide new tools for teaching basic and key skills, science and math education.

Clearly, DGBL has been effective in these situations and offers a wide diversity of approaches and tools for teachers to make use of in their practice. But DGBL also offers the learner a chance to become more central in their own learning through generating their own content, learning collaboratively in teams and becoming more engaged in the processes of learning.

5 reasons to develop computer game based learning
There are some potential benefits in developing computer games to teach children:

  1. Dissemination of information
  2. Motivation
  3. Effectiveness
  4. Addressing reasons for learning difficulties
  5. Computer is patient

It makes a lot of sense to develop computer game based learning on a widespread basis. To produce good computer game based learning requires a combination of great games design, cleaver programming to build in some of the important factors discussed above and expertise in teaching/ child neuropsychological development. There are thousands of learning games out there but very few based on knowledge of neuropsychological development, with good game play and research to show their effectiveness.


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