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Video Games and Education: Effects of Video Games on Students' Academic Performance

6 Min Read
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Can video games be educational? If you’ve heard that video games rot your brain, think again! Video games have many positive effects on students’ academic performance, but some educators are still largely unaware of these awesome outcomes. Guess what? These effects are backed by science, too.

Unleash these fun tools into the classroom and witness increased motivation, collaboration, and even a boost in academic performance.

Still don’t believe that video games in education have a valid place? Well, before giving them the snub, check out these 5 educational benefits of video games.

5 Benefits of Video Games in Education

1. They foster cooperation.

Did you know that over 70 percent of video games are played cooperatively? When people play these games, they’re either communicating online or playing side by side. One 2017 study published in the International Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences Research found that multiplayer games could actually increase cooperation.

Sixty middle school students who had no previous video game playing experience were broken up into three groups: no gameplay, cooperative gameplay, and competitive gameplay. Students in the game playing groups were taught how to play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.

They practiced for two hours and were then observed playing with or against another middle schooler from the study. The results were taken after 20 trials and showed that the kids who played cooperatively scored higher than the kids who played competitively or didn’t play at all! Researchers concluded that video games could improve teamwork skills when played cooperatively.

How does this relate to academic performance? Increasingly, schools are turning to group learning for education, whether it be through project-based learning or collaboration technologies. Thus, teamwork plays an essential role in the majority of classrooms now. And video games offer an engaging, effective medium for teaching collaboration skills.

2. They have cognitive benefits.

Research published in the journal Vision Research suggests that video games have some cognitive benefits. Researchers used fMRI—Functional magnetic resonance imaging, which measures brain activity by detecting changes associated with blood flow—and found that gamers can filter out irrelevant visual information.

According to the study, non-gamers use their frontal-parietal network more than gamers, while gamers tend to “allocate attentional resources more automatically, possibly allowing more efficient early filtering of irrelevant information.”

Guess what? The ability to filter out irrelevant information definitely helps students in the classroom. Take research projects, for example. The ability to pick out more relevant information from texts saves time and plays an important role in academic achievement.

Another study conducted by James Paul Gee, a retired professor who most recently held a position as a professor of literacy studies at Arizona State University, found that video games improve one’s ability to follow directions and solve problems. Specifically, he notes that “good video games incorporate good learning principles . . . supported by current research in cognitive science.”

After playing some video games himself and observing others, Gee found that people who play these games often want to improve their gaming skills. But to do so, they must follow directions, practice, and work on overcoming their weaknesses. School presents a similar challenge. Students must follow instructions and practice academic skills in order to attain good grades.

Similarly, the tier systems of most video games require players to achieve one level in order to get to the next. As players progress, they often have to solve problems—and according to Gee, this imitates the space of a classroom, where you have to develop hypotheses and creative solutions to problems.

3. They can increase academic motivation.

Another study published in the journal Computers & Education examined how video games affect student motivation. Researchers observed 1,274 first and second graders in Chile over three months, during which the students played various educational games. By the end of the study, teachers reported increased student motivation and improved technology skills.

Motivation in education has always been a hot topic. In a society where we provide many students with extrinsic rewards, such as grades, many kids are learning for the test or the “A.” Too often, they lack intrinsic motivation.

This is problematic; numerous studies have shown that intrinsic motivation and student interest in education lead to better results. In short, students are more inclined to learn if they’re interested in the material.

No matter how you dice it, video games motivate LOTS of students. Think about it, would you rather play an educational video game or listen to a lecture?

4. They improve your educational mindset.

A study conducted by researchers at New York University’s Steinhardt School and the City University of New York found that students who played a math video game—FactorReactor—had a mindset that was highly conducive to learning. And in support of the findings of the first study we cited here, the researchers also found that those playing collaboratively displayed an increased motivation to learn.

This study also found that educational video games reinforce students’ desire for mastering a specific subject. Games like FactorReactor encourage students to re-engage with material and pursue additional learning beyond the task at hand. Additionally, students who played the game were especially goal-oriented and engaged in more problem-solving—skills that translate directly to success in the classroom.

5. They can positively affect cognitive and social health.

A study conducted by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found that there could be a definite link between video games and children’s mental, cognitive, and social health.

Researchers noted that children who played video games almost every day had increased odds by around 1.75 of high intellectual functioning and by around 1.88 of overall competence. The study also found that kids who play video games seem to have fewer relationship issues with their peers. Now that’s a collaborative tool at its finest.

Want More Concrete Evidence of the Positive Effects of Video Games in Education?

Alberto Posso, a professor at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia, took part in a study that examined more than 12,000 15-year-olds in math and science. His results were astounding. Students who frequently played video games scored around 17 points higher in the sciences and 15 points higher in math!

After observations, Pusso concluded that many video games use (and therefore develop) analytical and puzzle-solving skills, some of which involve the same cognitive processes that you use in math and science. He encourages teachers to “incorporat[e] favorite video games into teaching—so long as they’re not violent ones.” Clearly, video games can be educational and an excellent tool in our rapidly changing technological world.

Educational video games not only have a positive effect on students’ academic performance but also bring fun to the classroom. If we show students that learning can be fun, we might very well be able to reignite their intrinsic motivation for learning; after all, learning is about much more than just getting another “A.”

Consider integrating gaming in the classroom to help your students develop interpersonal, cognitive, and problem-solving skills. Who knows? You might be tempted to play, too.

This article was adapted from a blog post initially developed by the education technology company Classcraft, which was acquired by HMH in 2023. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.

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