For decades, video games have been a massively popular form of entertainment. The use of games as a learner engagement tool, however, is still a relatively new concept. The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University is currently using game-based learning to transform how we acquire knowledge and develop new skills.

In the past, online education involved transferring traditional teaching methods onto a screen.  But as Marie Bountrogianni, Dean of The Chang School explains, “it is much more sophisticated now. There’s been some recent research that shows it can be very effective to use game-based learning.”

Interactive learning from home

Using what are known as “serious games,” students interact in real-time with a video simulation or with actors in role-playing scenarios to learn concepts. For example, a nursing student might log into a game and encounter a post-operative patient, or a suspected domestic violence victim, and have to choose the appropriate clinical response. The student is given immediate feedback based on their choice and application of critical-thinking skills.

“You’re learning some very sophisticated skills,” Bountrogianni says. “Pilots do a lot of training in simulators first. If they make a mistake, they might hear a crash-boom, but they’re not going to actually crash. Then they learn from the mistake.” Such a simulation of a high-risk encounter lowers the chance of harm in real-life situations.

Games for all ages

Ryerson University is home to an online role-play environment designed by The Chang School’s own digital education strategy unit. The portal, known as Lake Devo after a body of water on campus, supports online role-playing and serious games, and is used by a variety of faculties, Bountrogianni says.

Game-based learning has many benefits— especially for learners with mobility issues, or those based outside the GTA— because it’s accessible and cost-efficient while involving students in a more dynamic learning process. “For initial skill development, it’s excellent,” notes Bountrogianni.

And it’s not just for millennials. Game-based learning can be effective for all stages of learning, as long as the content, style, and pedagogy are appropriate. The onus is on the school to make the tools user-friendly and interesting, Bountrogianni explains.

Continuing education has become extremely popular, both for adults seeking a practical upgrade of skills after an undergraduate degree, and those considering a career change. Online enrolments have risen more than 10 percent over the past couple of years, and a third of The Chang’s School’s 70,000 students learn solely online.

All continuing education programs, game-based or not, are developed with Ryerson faculty to be university credit quality. The school is working with provincially-funded agency eCampusOntario to develop the first Practical Design Guide for best practices in game-based learning in Ontario.

On May 3, Ryerson will host ChangSchoolTalks: Serious Games, an annual professional development and networking event that, this year, will focus on game-based learning. Experts from universities around the world will share their experiences using game-based learning to enhance higher education, the field of medicine, and the corporate world. Learn more about how games are changing the education landscape by visiting https://changschooltalks.ryerson.ca/