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Games Support Multiple Learning Styles

Andrew Miller

Instructional Coach at Shanghai American School
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Portal screenshot

When we talk about "games," that term covers a huge range. From video games to board games, from Kinect to pencil-and-paper games, all of these can contribute to student learning. There are many reasons why games can and do teach, but interestingly, they actually access the multiple learning styles we already know about. This infographic can help you review the different learning styles if you need to. We can align them to games to further justify how we might use games in the classroom.

Visual Learning

This is probably the most obvious way in which games align to a learning style. Digital games leverage visuals as integral to the process. However, it's not just about the polish and creative artwork of a game. Games use visuals to create problems that players want to solve. These visuals give clues toward the solutions. The learner playing Portal, for example, must use visual-spatial learning to effectively navigate the game. Players are interacting with the visuals of the game. Instead of simply showing passive visuals, games immerse the learner in a visual experience.

Kinesthetic Learning

Some games get us physically moving, either through whole bodies or "hands-on" experience. The Kinect is prime example of games that require a lot of kinesthetic experience. (I addressed this in a previous blog.) There are also some physical games that don't require a video game system, and even these help to engage kinesthetic-oriented learners in the learning process.

Auditory Learning

Some digital games have voice-overs and audio directions, but even more old school, when we play games together, we often coach each other or give pointers. For example, when I was playing the game Pandemic with my family and friends, I was required to collaborate by talking with other players. I collaborated to learn the instructions and also to strategize with my team to win the game. Now, while this game may not be considered a serious game that teaches content, it does teach collaboration, a critical 21st-century skill. In addition, digital games have sounds, music and other auditory elements that give hints and clues for players to incorporate while playing. Consider having students collaborate to learn and play other educational games, as well as analyze other auditory components of games.

Read/Write Learning

Some consider this to be a learning style as well. When students play World of Warcraft, they are constantly reading and writing: reading engaging stories of characters and quest directions; typing strategies for raids and writing background stories for characters. Most games include reading as a critical learning modality to be successful, but many games also leverage writing for communication or even answer purposes. Games can engage the read/write learner.

Now, not every game accesses all of the learning styles concurrently or evenly, but many games can access more than one. As you pick games to use in your classroom, consider your students' abilities through learning profiles cards (such as those offered by the Schultz Center), and use the games to scaffold learning that meets the unique needs of the children you teach.

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Catherine Thompson's picture

I find it interesting to think about using video games in the classroom. Would we have to find games that are strictly educational or could we use ones that aren't made specifically for educational purposes? it is definitely a way to get creative in your classroom

Candace Barich's picture
Candace Barich
Fourth-Fifth Grade Looping Teacher from WA

I learned to subitize playing Monopoly and Yahtzee and how to order pairs playing Battleship. Games require little prep, save paper, and give students the social learning opportunities they crave. Surely teaching inequalities to my fourth graders would be more engaging with a Kinect system than a worksheet. Students need to get their bodies going in order to move the blood from their bums to their brains!

JoshW's picture
K-12 Math and Science Teacher

Candace, you are exactly right. Catherine, it doesn't have to be just video games. All the game has to do is get the kids excited about being in the classroom as they will learn from the curriculum from the game itself if it is designed properly. There is no need for any lecture of whatever method as the kids will come up with the questions on their own. The best part about that is teachers get to see and hear what the kids are thinking wihtout having to pry all the time (Socratic). Natural learning is always the best and fastest and instill natural competition which is a good thing. I was forced to create my own games as the curriculum became droll and ineffective. There is a link to them on my profile page for any who are interested.

Anna's picture

This is an interesting article on how various games can benefit the various learning styles of our students. I have always been aware of the benefits of traditional board/card games. As Wii and Kinect have become popular, students have become more engaged in physical activity; therefore recognize the benefits for our students. However, I have always struggled with how the influence of computer video games, outside of traditional content areas, could ever move our students towards higher-level thinking. Now I will use the learners profiles cards, mentioned above, to help meet the unique learning needs of my students.

Isha Sood's picture

That's a very nicely drafted article Andrew. After reading this, I can easily make out that I fall in the category of Visual Learners. Now I know why I find game based learning more appealing, it is because of the visual elements in games which add to the aesthetics of the course and I second it when you say, instead of simply showing passive visuals, games immerse the learner in a visual experience.

To add to your article, I think it becomes all the more important for the instructors to emphasize on game design to suit the learning style of your audience. Playcentric design is the need of the hour. While designing a game, you need to understand what is the your learner's psychology and learning style and also, what kind of behavior you would like to encourage. The ideal solution is to analyze your audience, categorize them on basis of their learning styles, behavior, interests and psychology and use the right mix of games in various creative ways.

Isha Sood

Raptivity Team

Kimberly's picture
Fourth Grade Teacher

I think that games are a great way to incorporate learning styles. Students are actively engaged on many different levels without every really noticing that they are. Games really help the brain in many ways. One of the most important way is developing hand-eye coordination. Students have to visually receive the information, process it, then reply using the controls through their hands. This can really help improve a child's ability to process information. This is a great tool for helping students work on memory and processing skills. This could also be beneficial to a child that has attention deficit disorder. This could help to improve stamina. Games are a great way to tap into different types of learning and the levels you can take it to.

R. Kartalis's picture
R. Kartalis
House Principal and former Mathematics Teacher

Mathoku is an app that is a combination of Math and Sudoku. It is a great way to get students interested in math. It also utilizes proper order of operations, which some other math apps do not. Mathoku Jr is also good for younger students.

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