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Not all educational video games are created equal

Educational video games for children are popular with parents and teachers. However, their effectiveness varies widely.

Adam Dubé, a researcher in McGill University’s Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology, analyzed the impact of some games designed to help elementary school children improve their math skills.

The games in the study were of the “continuous motion” type, meaning that the character controlled by the player is constantly moving and overcoming obstacles. Children must solve math problems to continue their route. These games are among the most popular with young players.

However, the design of these games leads children to use highly mechanical approaches to problem solving, rather than flexible approaches. This is what Adam Dubé and his team have shown in their study of approximately150 elementary students.

Consider a fairly simple problem: 3+21-21 = X. An adult will quickly see that the two 21s cancel each other out and that the answer is 3. A child, on the other hand, will perform the addition, and then the subtraction. Ideally, however, by solving these types of problems, the child should come to understand that there are other ways to find the solution. This is known as mathematical flexibility.

Surprisingly, the study showed that the children who excelled at these games were those with the least mathematical flexibility. Flexible mathematical thinking was greater among the slower players, and even greater among those who had not played… This can be explained by the fact that these games generate considerable excitement and cognitive fatigue in children, leading them to favour mechanical approaches over mathematical flexibility.

The researcher and his team are now using their study to support the efforts of some studios to develop games that are more effective in promoting flexibility, but just as engaging for children.

Références : https://www.mcgill.ca/tlc/tlc-impact