Among the points highlighted in Clark’s recent article trashing serious games are that “…the research shows no instructional advantages of games over the other instructional approaches (such as lectures)…” and that “only poorly designed studies find learning benefits from games“.
And yet, we all know that listening to lectures is quite passive while doing something with what you are learning is much more active and leads to better retention. Learning by doing beats learning by listening. This came across slashdot yesterday: “‘Like humans, monkeys benefit enormously from being actively involved in learning instead of having information presented to them passively,’ said Nate Kornell, a UCLA postdoctoral scholar in psychology and lead author of the study, which appears in the August issue of the journal Psychological Science. ‘The advantage of active learning appears to be a fundamental property of memory in humans and nonhumans alike.'” http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/08/070801161511.htm
I also found this bit interesting: “The findings were somewhat unintuitive, because passively using the hint appeared to enhance performance during the study phase of the experiment but had a deleterious effect on long-term learning,” Kornell said.
One thing we do not have much of is studies that test retention after time has passed. I understand why, of course – it is hard to find people willing re-test months after the first phase of a study. Still, I think finding out what approaches help people remember what they have learned over the long term is far more important than figuring out how make sure people can pass the end of term exam. For some reason, I am reminded of Father Guido Sarducci’s Four Minute University
One thing games can do better than almost any other technology is allow people to learn by doing. It’s safer, people can try as often as they like, they can practice those bits they find tricky, an, in spite of Clark’s claim about the cost of commercially viable serious games, they are often cheaper. Conservatively, let’s say it costs $100 Million to build an oil rig. And let’s use Clark’s upper estimate of $10 Million for the cost to build a serious game that trains people to operate a rig. Hmmm. That’s 10% of what it would cost to replace a rig ruined by an untrained worker. Now I know these guys already get training in other ways so it’s not entirely fair to compare one rig against one game. But, wait… how many times could we use this ONE serious game be used? And how many rig operators are there out there?