Can guessing games motivate learners?

Can a game of chance engage the brain and accelerate learning?


A project to investigate whether the uncertainty inherent in games can increase the rate at which children learn science, will get underway thanks to a £650,000 funding boost.

Academics from the University of Bristol and Manchester Metropolitan University will work with schools to assess how games, including video games, engage the brain’s reward system.

It’s one of six new projects funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation to investigate a variety of ways neuroscience might improve teaching and learning in the UK.

Teachers often encourage their students by giving rewards, such as gold stars, in return for good answers. In this project, however, the rewards for good answers are decided by chance.

Dr Paul Howard-Jones, from the Graduate School of Education at the University of Bristol, is leading a team supported by Dr Nicola Whitton of MMU’s Education and Social Research Institute.

Paul said: “Previous research has shown that not knowing whether a reward will materialise can add to the excitement and motivation around learning. We’re gaining a better understanding of how uncertainty can increase the rate at which we learn, thanks to new insights that have arisen from neuroscience.

“We’re really looking forward to working with teachers to develop a novel game-based approach to whole-class teaching that applies these insights.”

Working with students in Year 8 science lessons, classes will collaborate in teams to accumulate points by answering questions, with the option of doubling or losing points for correct answers on the spin of a wheel of fortune.

Free web-based technology will be used to connect the class up and allow all students to participate at once. The technology will also randomly select teams for special challenges, and provide occasional pay-outs of points based purely on luck.

Nicola, one of MMU’s National Teaching Fellows, said: “Knowing there is a link between uncertain rewards and learning, is fine but but what does this mean for actual teachers and pupils. Our intention is to look at how the science translates into classroom practice, asking whether this helps raise attainment for learners.”

Researchers are initially looking to recruit six schools in the South West to take part in the first stage of the project, starting in January 2015, to help develop the gaming experience. The project will then be rolled out more widely to include 35 schools in the area.

Dr Hilary Leevers, Head of Education and Learning at the Wellcome Trust said: “Our growing understanding of how the brain acquires and processes information has great potential to improve teaching and learning. We know that many teachers are keen to try new approaches based on neuroscience; however, we have so far lacked evidence about what will actually be beneficial to their students.”


This first appeared on the MMU website – to read it follow this link.

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