The impact of video games used in the educational field can be observed in several aspects. One of the levers for which the game is used concerns motivation in learning, and will be developed in its own part below. But it is also interesting to observe the effect of games on learning performance, without necessarily taking into account the motivation factor. Several studies have attempted to evaluate whether the use of video games in a teaching context improves learning outcomes. For example, in a study by Michail Giannakos, the authors empirically assessed the value of a serious game compared to traditional learning (Giannakos, 2013).
This study also aimed to assess what and how certain attitudes affect learner performance. An educational game (Gem-Game) was used by learners in grades 1 and 2 of secondary school, and the authors wanted to demonstrate whether gambling-related attitudes made students perform better. The performance tests carried out afterward, however, did not show any significant differences between the two learning methods. Factors (fun, intent to use, joy, performance) were measured in parallel, and after statistical analysis, the fun factor appeared to have a positive effect on performance. Learners with the most fun were the most likely to learn.
However, it remains difficult to extend these results to other situations, as the study was conducted in a specific context. Conversely, Elena Novak, and Janet Tassel show in their work in 2015 that the use of video games leads to an improvement in learners’ mathematical abilities (Novak & Tassell, 2015). By comparing skills between video game players and non-gamers, the authors were able to highlight the improvement in the player group of cognitive skills such as mental rotation, working memory, or geometry skills. Another study consisted of testing the effectiveness of an online game on English learning for 5th and 6th-grade students in Korea (Suh, Kim, & Kim, 2010).
While one group conducted their sessions in a traditional manner, the other group played an online game, with certain academic constraints for the game’s evolution. In addition to gaining experience in the classic game (eliminating monsters, …), players had to answer puzzles based on the English curriculum, with the need to write answers, do research, etc. (Suh, Kim, & Kim, 2010). The group of players thus obtained better scores than the test group on the exercises of oral comprehension and production, reading, and finally written production.
However, one of the most complex points in the study of video games as a learning medium is the methodology to be implemented. It is necessary to succeed in proving that the students have learned the course content well and that they have done so through the use of the medium, in this case, the video game. Franck Amadieu and André Tricot point out this problem and present the methodology to follow in order to ensure that the study is sufficiently rigorous (Amadieu & Tricot, 2014). It is, therefore, necessary to carry out a knowledge control before and after the pedagogical sequence including the game, in order to take into account the subjects’ previous knowledge.
It is also necessary to have a control group, which will follow the same teaching as the test group, but without the use of the video game. In the case of the control group, the authors emphasize that if the game is not used in the classroom, then this group must be taught similarly to the test group (through a book or training). Two studies are then taken as examples in their book: the first concerns the use of the SimCity game on leisure time and urban planning knowledge (Tanes & Cemalcilar, 2010). Although the gambling group did indeed make significant progress in their knowledge of urban planning, the control group had not followed any alternative activities.
Similarly, a study of Re-Mission serious gambling was designed to evaluate the effect of gambling in helping adolescents with cancer manage their treatment (Beale, Kato, Marin-Bowling, Guthrie, & Cole, 2007). Both groups received a video game, and the test group received the Re-Mission game in addition. Although the improvement in adolescent involvement in their treatment was greater for the test group than the control group, it is difficult to rule out the actual effectiveness of the gambling. This is because the test group did not follow conventional methods against which gambling could have been compared. For example, a meta-analysis showed that out of 31 selected studies, only 9 had the methodological prerequisites to allow for a real observation of the effect of video games on learning (Girard, Ecalle, & Magnan, 2013).
Gains in the learning process with video games
Of these, only 3 showed better learning in the serious gambling group compared to the control group. In 2 other studies, no effect on learning was observed, but the motivation was increased. It is therefore important to consider the methodological approach before drawing conclusions from the results obtained. Other studies based their research on the cognitive and behavioral effects of video games listed in the various scientific works. Based on studies of computer games and interactive simulations compared to conventional learning, Jennifer J. Vogel’s meta-analysis has shown that the use of this type of video game improves cognitive gains in the learning process.
(Vogel et al., 2006). Nevertheless, this result must be qualified by numerous variables. In particular, the authors specify that in their study, men have no preference while women seem to prefer simulations and interactive games, which may influence the results obtained. For her part, Traci Stizmann studied 55 works on simulation games, and showed an improvement in learning performance thanks to serious games, by 11% for concept learning and 14% for skill learning (Sitzmann, 2011). Serious games proved to be less effective in the long term, but still had a significant effect on learning. However, one of the biases highlighted was the difference in the type of learning between the two categories of groups, one with active learning (groups with serious games) and the other with passive learning (groups with conventional learning).
In his meta-analysis on the cognitive and motivational effects of serious games, Pieter Wouters highlights more effective learning with the use of serious games compared to conventional methods (Wouters et al., 2013). Serious games would be more effective if they are combined with other learning methods, rather than using them alone. He also notes that these games would be more effective when played in a group setting. However, this analysis seems to show that video games would have no impact on learner motivation. A second meta-analysis, by Pieter Wouters and Herre van Oostendorp (Wouters & van Oostendorp, 2013), takes up the hypothesis put forward that video games would affect the cognitive and affective dimensions of learning (O’Neil, Wainess, & Baker, 2005), and would allow learners to adapt their learning to their cognitive needs and interests, as well as provide motivation for learning.
This effect of video games on motivation will be further developed below. From the point of view of cognitive theories, learning associated with video games is a complex learning environment. Numerous instructions can overload learners and then slow down their learning (Wouters, Paas, & Merriënboer, 2008). Pieter Wouters is thus interested in his meta-analysis of the role of pedagogical support (feedback by commentary, progression by levels, advice, etc.) in video game-based learning. The authors then put forward that the pedagogical scenario around the video game allowed for improved learning. Moreover, by looking at the different types of teaching, the learning of those concerning skills was improved more significantly than the others.
When pedagogical supervision is aimed at targeting the important information in the game, an improvement in learning is also observed. This study highlights the fact that the pedagogical framework, often taking the form of a pedagogical scenario, is essential for the proper use of video games in learning. The video game is therefore a medium like any other, which must be integrated by thinking about how to use or divert it, and the objectives and interests of its use in the pedagogical sequence. One of the limits often mentioned in research on video games concerns the extension of the results obtained in one case study to others.
Indeed, the parameters can vary enormously (the type of learner, type of game, learning support, …), and it is complicated to generalize observations of a precise pedagogical situation (Watson, Mong, & Harris, 2011). Moreover, as pointed out by Franck Amadieu and André Tricot, there is not always a comparison with other teaching methods and supports (Amadieu & Tricot, 2014). It is therefore not possible to conclude on the effectiveness of video games compared to another medium such as a video or a book. Although the effect is significant, this does not mean that it will necessarily be the best method. Also, if it is not possible to offer all learners the opportunity to play a game (limit of computers/consoles in the establishment, time constraints, cost of license purchases, …), an alternative may be the use of video extracted from a video game.