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June 19, 2014

Study shows video games influence learning behaviors

By Timothy Simko

There is a correlation between learning behaviors of children and young adults who play video games and the approaches they take to learning in classrooms.

In view of the ubiquitous presence of video games in a child’s environment today these findings have special significance for learning outcomes.

Dr. Karla HamlenDr. Karla Hamlen, assistant professor in the department of curriculum and foundations in Cleveland State University, has discovered the correlation through a series of studies that compared and contrasted learning strategies children use to play and problem solve in video games with the strategies they adopt to learn and problem solve in schools and colleges.

Dr. Hamlen’s research focuses on types of video games children play and how the games foster creativity, problem solving skills and ethical behaviors that influence learning.

In the studies Hamlen placed no restrictions on what type of video games to use, and allowed students to use video games from any medium they play.

“It is difficult to define what video gameplay is,” Hamlen said. “Is playing Candy Crush on your phone the same as playing Halo?”

One of her studies was a qualitative and exploratory study where she interviewed and observed teenage boys about how they approach gameplay. She found that the teenage boys created their own code of ethics in the games that they play, but that in school ethics are defined by whatever the teachers told them.

Another study conducted by Hamlen was a survey of high school and college students. In this study, she looked at the video gameplay and strategies used by students and saw how they were applied to academics.

The result was that the strategies used in videos games paralleled the strategies used in real life.


“If someone gave up in the video game, they are likely to give up on a homework assignment,” Hamlen said. “Those who use cheat codes are likely to cheat on homework.”

MarioHamlen explained that the behavior while playing a video game is a reflection of a student’s work ethic and can show how a student would approach a situation in real life.
There were also a few differentiating findings. For example, those who used a cheat code to get past things are more likely to try to get out of a situation in real life, however, those who use cheat codes to make the game more fun or interesting will be less likely to try to get out of a situation and may instead use more creative methods in solving a problem.

Hamlen wants people to get away from the idea that video games are having only bad effects—video games can be a constructive and helpful tool in educating children and young adults.

“Video games are a good model for learning,” she said. “The way they’re designed is superior to how we design formal education.”

Hamlen explained that in a video game environment, students don’t read the manual but are eased into the game. However, in formal education, a student has to sit down and read chapters from a book before they know anything about the subject matter.

She also said that in video games there can be a collaborative effort while in a school environment collaboration can be seen as cheating. Hamlen believes that in the real world students have to collaborate.

In Spring 2014, Hamlen taught a course where—similar to these studies—students had the opportunity to examine behaviors relating to technology.

“EDF 525, New Literacies and Technologies, is a Master’s-level special topics course in which students examine the expanding definition of ‘literacy’ as it applies to new technologies, and new popular forms of reading and writing among children and teens,” Hamlen explained.

The EDF 525 graduate-level course investigates how students acquire technology skills and literacies. It shows how students experience video game culture, social media, fan fiction, texting, online communities. This course also looks at how children choose to learn with new technologies and explores ways this knowledge can shape the way academic learning is designed.

“Assignments in the course include playing video games, participating in virtual worlds and social media communities to evaluate them from an educational and psychological perspective,” said Hamlen.

Data is still being collected, as Hamlen is currently conducting a study using Cleveland State University students and students from other universities. She will also include people who don’t play video games so she can take a look and draw comparisons. This study is an assessment of problem solving techniques used by the students, and will help her follow up on her previous studies.

“I think video games have a lot to offer in the way of creative problem solving,” said Hamlen.

According to her study, behavior playing a video game is associated with what can happen in real life. A student that gives up on a video game level that is hard may give up on a homework assignment that is also hard, while a student that has to ask for help completing a video game level may ask for help in completing a homework assignment.

“The way you choose to solve problems is a reflection of how creative you can be in solving problems in other areas of life,” said Hamlen.