by Maureen Reed
(published by High Content Games, 2006)

Many parents would probably be surprised to know that the use of games as educational tools is a legitimate, respected area of study and practice. Games, also known as simulations, are used extensively in diverse environments from corporate training to military training, from the healthcare industry to manufacturing. Decision-makers have discovered that people are more interested when games or simulations are employed for training. This leads to greater receptiveness, greater retention, and greater involvement in their training. Many studies have been done over the last thirty years regarding the effectiveness of games and simulations as educational tools. The majority of these studies have shown superior math improvement with the use of games, superior content retention with the use of games, and superior interest in the subject matter.

Educators are starting to recognize these benefits can apply in a school environment as well. The past decade has seen an explosion of interest in teaching methods known variably as active learning and co-operative learning. Examples abound of professors and teachers experimenting with computer and board games and finding the students performing better on tests and developing a deeper understanding of the subject matter. Richard B. Powers, a long time user of simulation games at Utah State University says it succinctly. “Games bring together the rarely associated elements of play, laughter, and learning which bring joy to learning. Why not make learning in our schools joyful?” What is it about games that make them such a powerful educational tool?

Sivasailam Thiagarajan, president of Workshops by Thaigi, an organization that works with corporate managers and employees to improve their organization’s performance, productivity, and profits, writes that “the instructional techniques [of simulation gaming] are based on two important premises:  People learn better through active experience than passive listening; and people learn better through interacting with one another than working alone.” Board games prove superior in this regard.

Some board games do indeed support solitaire play, but the vast majority require two to four players. This creates an environment for co-operative learning. Rich discussion and lively debate occurs as participants work hard to prove their point or settle a dispute. Opportunities arise for exploration of why something just happened and postulating “what if” scenarios for alternative outcomes. Guided learning can occur when a teacher participates in a board game, seizing opportunities to “fill in the gaps” with timely comments and pointed questions. Creativity multiplies exponentially when players band together and/or bounce off of each other. Sportsmanship, flexibility, and healthy attitudes are built into multi-player board games. Communication and social skills are improved de facto.

The interaction in board games is the real secret to what makes them excellent educational tools. Games involve us. Games enrich us. Games educate and entertain us. Teachers, homeschoolers, parents, children and adults. Games bind us all together and provide a uniquely socially interactive learning experience.