Elizabeth Cooper looks at the opportunities for learning and development offered by digital games
Parents of digital natives might never fully understand their relationship with technology, but embracing it can be beneficial to their children’s learning experiences.
Children who have grown up in the technological age are generally more familiar and at ease with everyday technology than the generations that preceded them – they are digital natives. As a result of this early familiarity with tech, digital games have become more and more popular for educational purposes. For children with SEN, the engaging and accessible nature of digital games can enhance their long-term memory and keep them focused for longer. But what is it about digital games that children love so much, and works for educators?
With traditional books and worksheets, school work can be very monotonous. Children with SEN all have their own individual needs and holding their concentration can be particularly difficult. For these students, often it is the case that they prefer a different learning style to those around them. The use of digital games in classrooms allows teachers and educators to customise games to relevant topics which the child needs most. Some games even allow teachers’ to customise the content of the game before set up, so the children can integrate playing the game with their other work. This can boost their knowledge to match their ability and understanding.
Accessibility has got to be one of the most important aspects for digital natives. Children use computers, tablets and phones in all sorts of situations, from the car to the aeroplane. The use of touch-screens for games introduces a hands-on approach to learning that hadn’t been available in classrooms before. A benefit of having software games is that many of the games used in classrooms can be accessed at home and so the child can continue the game and learn at their own pace in their own environment. “Little and often” learning is often the most effective and can provide long-term benefits.
Learn, explore, master
Mainstream video games often have the appeal of defeating an obstacle, which can be very satisfying for users. Educational games are similar in that there is a challenge to be met. The child can learn from their mistakes and learn to remain focused to complete the task. They can also receive a reward at the end, such as badges, stickers or progressing to a higher level of the game. Children can be proud that they have conquered it on their own, without the pressure of other classmates or physical restraints.
Play is now considered to be an essential activity in the development of all children. As digital games are so strongly associated with the entertainment industry, they are already positioned in our minds, and those of children, as a fun play activity. When learning is one of the components of this play, the learning is likely to be enhanced. Games that give both verbal and written instructions, break down directions into easy steps, and focus on the player’s individual strengths can also help boost literacy and numeracy skills.
If technology offers one thing, it is opportunity – the opportunity for children with SEN to learn at their own pace and according to their own abilities, whilst enjoying the attractive visuals and sounds that most digital games offer. The challenge for parents/carers and educators is how to use children’s love of the digital world to help them succeed and be happy in their learning.
Elizabeth Cooper is from Help Educational Games, which produces a range of board games and digital games: