People’s need for instant interaction and constant stimulation via apps and video games has never been stronger. In the last few years, laptops, tablets, and smartphones have become so prevalent that few people can even imagine leaving their homes without at least one electronic device.

According to a 2015 survey by the Entertainment Software Association of Canada (ESAC), about 61 percent of households have video game consoles. In fact, the survey found that 19 million Canadians would consider themselves gamers.

Correspondingly, higher learning centres are using people’s craving for interaction and love of gaming as a powerful teaching tool. This method of learning works well because students respond to the level of engagement and interaction that video-learning modules require. According to a Technavio report entitled Global Higher Education Game-Based Learning Market 2016–2020, game-based learning can “stimulate cognitive processes like problem-solving and deductive and inductive reasoning abilities.” The learning stance of students is fundamentally upgraded from passive learning to active participation. Additionally, because not everyone learns the same way, these interactive educational approaches appeal  to and motivate a wider audience.

Can video games really help you learn?

Yerin Park, a second year nursing student at Ryerson University, raves about her school’s interactive modules, which feature engaging video components that simulate learners interacting with actors playing patients. “It was realistic, you felt like you were actually in the situation. I thought it was what learning should be: fun and applicable to real life in an environment where you’re not afraid to make mistakes. It was a really enriching experience.”

“Learning doesn’t mean memorizing theories, terminologies — it means acquiring the skills and thought processes needed to respond appropriately under pressure, in a variety of situations”

Dr. Marie Bountrogianni, Dean of the G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University, explains the Serious Gaming program for health care students as a module where students learn to practice communication, interviewing, and assessment skills. “If the student makes a mistake, the patient responds accordingly, and so students learn from their mistakes. That’s game-based learning; it’s interactive, interesting courses that allow the learner to practise what they’re being taught.

With game-based learning, technology does not distract the student but rather enriches the educational experience. It’s real life, hands-on learning in a virtual environment. “The game’s high production values meet students’ needs, keeping them engaged and challenged; it’s as close to real life as you can get,” says Bountrogianni.

Game-based learning and the new workforce

The current workforce is being replaced by generations (those predominately aged 18–40) who have grown up with computers and video games. The generational shift is being reflected by the amount of industries adopting more interactive forms of learning, such as law, aviation, military, and health care.  “Learning doesn’t mean memorizing theories, terminologies — it means acquiring the skills and thought processes needed to respond appropriately under pressure, in a variety of situations,” remarks Bountrogianni.

Another significant benefit of game-based learning is how much more inclusive than traditional learning it is, where a student has to be physically present. “For me, accessibility is key,” explains Bountrogianni. “There are people in continuing education who work and have families, so they really appreciate being able to do some, if not all, of their studies online. But, if the online offerings are static and do not give immediate feedback, then that’s not the best experience. The more interactive you can be in online courses — like with gamed-based learning — the better.”

As game-based learning continues to expand, institutions of higher learning will continue to engage and successfully educate a growing number of students. More actively engaged students means more well-trained professionals will enter the workforce, which is something that all Canadians — whether or not they enjoy video games — can appreciate.