Game based learning is where Vygotsky meets Dweck.
Lev Vygotsky coined the term zone of proximal development. This is the sweet spot for learning; it’s the area between what a person can do without help, and what they can only accomplish with help. These are the skills that a person can develop with guidance, persistence, and encouragement.
Carol Dweck is the Columbia and now Stanford professor who wrote Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dr. Dweck pioneered the growth mindset paradigm, where individuals view themselves as evolving, and therefore persist and iterate in order to increase their proficiencies and abilities.
Research suggests that video games offer a synthesis of both a growth mindset and zones of proximal development. There are over 180 million active gamers in the US and the average gamer spends 13 hours a week playing games. Given that 99% of boys, 94% of girls, and 62% of teachers play video games, isn’t it a relief knowing that they may actually be learning?
In Playful Learning: An Integrated Design Framework, Plass, Homer, and Kinzer point out that successful games tend to aim toward a player’s zone of proximal development, where a player can succeed, but only through effort and some struggle. Games therefore have to measure player skill, and then provide an appropriate response (feedback, consequences, next actions) based on that information.
Games need to allow for graceful failure; game designers embed failure into the game mechanics without a lot high-stakes negative consequence to encourage balanced risk taking and exploration.
Games are complex problems waiting to be solved in a way that is both fun and challenging. Kris Mueller, an eighth grade teacher writing for Edutopia, wrote: “A well-designed game leads players through carefully-leveled tasks that prepare them to succeed in bigger challenges.” What do we learn when we are put into situations that require us to solve problems while having fun and being challenged?