Learning Through Play—The Value of Games Like Minecraft and Roblox as Learning Tools

I remember afternoons when I was in grade school. They consisted of me rushing as fast as possible to get my homework finished so that I could run to my room and play video games. They were also filled, inevitably, with my mother shaking her head in disbelief that all I wanted to do was play games. Maybe you have had similar experiences in your past—or maybe you are that parent now, worried that all your child wants to do is play games. Fortunately, many educators have figured out how to integrate games into the classroom for maximum student
engagement while still teaching relevant skills. Contrary to some parental beliefs, this kind of strategy can actually lead to better, more internalized learning! I want to go into a bit of depth about Minecraft and Roblox, specifically, since they are going to be taught to DMA Adventurers this year.

What Can These Games Teach My Kids?

The short answer here is that games like Minecraft and Roblox can teach kids a host of things—especially at DMA, which is centered around digital media and technology subjects. Of course, having an actual game to play, discuss, and analyze can help students learn a great deal about the techniques of good game design. It can also provide a useful platform for exploring various coding methods and languages. This is primarily because these games are
highly customizable. Given the source code, students can design their own worlds and even their own rules. While doing this may be a bit scary for new students, these games offer a safe environment that makes learning, experimentation, and even failing a much more palatable experience. They encourage exploration and implementation of new ideas.

Perhaps more importantly, the use of games in instruction allows children to be “tricked” into learning. Sitting down with a blank piece of paper and having to write code can “teach” a child how to do so. Sitting down at a computer with Minecraft on the screen and having to write code that has an effect on the gameplay gives them one-to-one feedback with much more stimulation. This fires the brain's neurons and keeps kids interested for longer. My own children play Minecraft and Roblox almost incessantly, and they now know more about game
design and structure than I could have hoped to know at their ages—and they didn't even realize they were learning it.

The General Trend of Gamifying Education

A lot of educators are beginning to realize that making education more like a game can engage children's brains more thoroughly. Think about that example I gave at the start of this post. As a kid, I could not wait to get my head out of my stuffy math book and into a game. But what if I could learn that information while playing my game? I probably would have more thoroughly enjoyed the process of learning, and would have been—gasp—excited about learning. I want to briefly touch on ways that DMA is making education more like a game, and
thus stimulating students minds.

First, coursework is often set at a student's own pace. Though this is difficult to do in a public or traditional teaching environment, outside agencies like DMA have a higher ratio of available teaching time per student, so they can easily allow children to move at the learning pace that is comfortable for them. This mirrors the way that games are played, but it is not the only way that these agencies are gamifying the learning process.

Another method is the unlocking of badges or achievements. In many modern video games, players are given recognition and notification of completed goals in the form of item unlocks or badges on their online profile. This operates like a burst of seratonin and prods the player to keep playing so that he or she can unlock even more items and achievements. Taking a leaf out of the games industry's book, modern educators have started providing students with similar progress-markers. Collecting these can be a way to look back and remember just how far the student has come, which can fuel the drive to learn even more. It also acts in a similar way to achievements in video games, as each new “unlock” or badge gives a small, tangible proof of the achievement of the stated goal.

What Can We Learn as Parents?

I have just scratched the surface of what games can do for education with this post, but I hope that I have provided food for thought. Instead of shunning games or being frustrated that our children want to play games, we as parents should recognize that this desire can be channeled toward learning. That is precisely what agencies like DMA are doing—especially with the introduction of super-popular games like Minecraft and Roblox, which already lend themselves easily to the kinds of subjects taught by DMA. It's time to embrace the game and use it as a tool to help our children develop a taste for learning.