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Research Roundup: Gaming Builds Future-Facing Skills

What do creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration all have in common? They’re all future-facing skills, of course! Beyond these 4 C’s, future-facing skills also include media literacy, problem-solving, leadership, digital citizenship, and more. You may also know them as “21st-century skills,” which, as defined by Education Reform, are a “… broad set of knowledge, skills, work habits, and character traits that are believed—by educators, school reformers, college professors, employers, and others—to be critically important to success in today’s world, particularly in collegiate programs and contemporary careers and workplaces. Generally speaking, 21st-century skills can be applied in all academic subject areas, and in all educational, career, and civic settings throughout a student’s life.” In short, 21st-century skills help students prepare for their futures and help them keep it together just as best as they can.

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Now that you’re up to speed with the definition (and you’ve had your Phil of Disney Channel references) here’s our favorite fun fact about future-facing skills: game-based learning is an extremely effective way for teachers to nurture this skill set in their students. But don’t just take our word for it! We have a whole lineup of research on how gaming builds future-facing skills below.

Join in on the conversation about future-facing skills and game-based learning by letting us know your thoughts on Twitter or Facebook!

Game-Based Learning and Problem-solving Skills: A Systematic Review of the Literature 

A team of researchers from Texas A&M University reviewed research from 2009 to 2016 on game-based learning and problem-solving skills. They found that “…game-based learning nurtures problem-solving development across ages and academic levels.” They also found that game-based learning worked best to boost problem-solving skills when it was used in tandem with collaboration: “The elements featured most in the studies were collaboration and built-in feedback paired with interactivity. High interactivity promoted motivation and engagement, thereby impacting problem-solving skills, as increased motivation leads to persistence in finding solutions to problems addressed in the game.” In other words, game-based learning + teamwork = improved problem-solving skills!

A Case Study on 21st Century Skills Development Through a Computer Based Maths Game

This study, conducted by researchers from the National College of Ireland, investigated how a math game called “Count With Me!” affected students’ 21st-century learning skills, including logical thinking, problem-solving, self-directed learning, knowledge building, and digital literacy. The researchers note they approached this study with a math game specifically because “Recent research on mathematics education also shows that for many students, math is not considered an easy subject.” After conducting the experiment in an Irish 3rd-level educational institution, researchers surveyed students and found the following: “96.97% of students believed that the Count With Me! game helped them to develop their problem solving skills. 82.82% of students liked self-pacing themselves through the game based educational material. 78.78% of students agreed that the maths game has improved their knowledge and 81.81% of students were satisfied with their achievements in the game.” It’s no surprise to us that a game gave students more confidence while learning math! Games give students the ability to learn at their own pace and to fail and try again. Educational games are great resources for personalized learning!

Building virtual cities, inspiring intelligent citizens: Digital games for developing students’ problem solving and learning motivation

In this study, researchers set out to determine the effects of game-based learning on 9th-grade students’ problem-solving skills, motivation levels, and academic achievement. Over the course of a semester, these 44 students were divided into two groups. One group participated in game-based learning regularly and the other was instructed with traditional teaching methods only. Results showed that the game-based learning group improved their problem-solving skills while the control group’s skills remained the same. This study also found that students that used educational games in the classroom were more motivated on average than the other group of students. Researchers concluded that educational games are “a useful and productive tool to support students in effective learning while enhancing the classroom atmosphere.”

The landscape of research on the use of digital game-based learning apps to nurture creativity among young children: A review 

The faculty of Computer Science & Information Technology at the University of Malay in Malaysia investigated the effectiveness of game-based learning on young learners ages 3-6 by reviewing 20 past studies on the topic. Through reviewing this literature, researchers found that game-based learning “has had an active effect on strengthening children’s creative thinking.” They also noted that game-based learning “can potentially affect students’ ability to develop creative skills and critical thinking, knowledge transfer, acquisition of skills in digital experience, and a positive attitude toward learning.” This study demonstrates that even very young learners can experience the positive effects of educational games, like increased motivation and engagement, in addition to the development of future-facing skills like creativity!

Leadership styles and skills developed through game-based learning 

This paper set out to address the gap in research around game-based learning and the development of leadership skills. Researchers set out to answer two specific questions: “What were the leadership skills developed during a GBL course?” and “What kind of leadership styles emerge in the gaming context?” Through collecting data from 120 participants in 8 game-based learning courses on the leadership skills they developed and their leadership styles, the study found that “a game-based learning approach is an effective approach to leadership skills development and the primary skills developed were: motivation, facilitation, coaching, mindset changing, and communication.” Again, this is no surprise to us! As the Harvard Business Review reports, “strategic thinkers are found to be among the most highly effective leaders.” Game-based learning is an excellent tool to facilitate strategic thinking and other future-facing skills. 

It’s an exciting time for all of us edtech enthusiasts – the evidence backing up the benefits of game-based learning just keeps coming! At the time of publishing this blog, all of these studies have been conducted within the last 5 years, and we can’t wait to see what the future holds at the intersection of game-based learning and future-facing skills.

Interested in creating your own educational game that nurtures future-facing skills? Let us know! We have 17 years of experience working with clients like Scholastic, Smithsonian, and PBS, and we’re here to make all of your game-based learning dreams a reality. 

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