Educational computer games—video games for learning (a.k.a. serious games or edutainment)—have gained increasing attention over the last several years in academic, education, and gaming circles. In Disrupting Class we referenced a few of the top thinkers on the role games and simulations can play in education—people like Marc Prensky, James Paul Gee, and Chris Dede.

One reason people are so excited about educational games is because of how engaging and motivating games are naturally. Emerging research shows that many students are much more engaged when learning through a game than in more typical learning environments—and high engagement results in higher achievement. It also doesn’t take a whiz to see that many children already spend a ton of time with video games; moving learning to where the students are holds potential.

Yet despite their promise, serious games haven’t had a tremendous impact in formal learning environments to date. There are some limited successes—like Tabula Digita’s math games, for example (this article gives a solid overview)—but for the most part selling to and competing for time within traditional schools and classrooms remain difficult given many of the barriers we articulate in the book among others.

I’ve been left to wonder what would happen if educational gaming companies instead took a disruptive path and targeted nonconsumption rather than trying to penetrate the system by going in head first. “After school” has been one promising place of nonconsumption that has received some attention, but for a variety of reasons, adoption is still spotty although there are some successes.

To me, one natural fit has seemed to be introducing edutainment through the online learning channel. Because of the shift in platform and educational model, online learning is naturally well suited to educational gaming and other virtual simulations. I’ve always figured that offering educational games as a part of or an option in a course for those who would learn best through this path makes eminent sense.

Florida Virtual School is showing that that instinct could be right—and that I may also have underestimated the potential synergies—as FLVS is launching the first complete online game-based course for high school students in the form of a full American history course based on an online game scenario.

It’s called Conspiracy Code and FLVS designed it in partnership with 360Ed Inc., an educational game development company whose CEO, Ben Noel, is a former Electronic Arts employee.

The game has the potential to scale, according to Noel in the eSchool News article, and it is in beta testing right now with 65 students to understand how effective it is and do further research to improve it. Ultimately the University of Central Florida is planning a study on this using fMRI scans and so forth to understand the learning it produces in students.

It’s going to be fun to watch as the experiment evolves—both from a research perspective and from the perspective of where it goes next as FLVS plans future courses with 360Ed.

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Also, keep an eye on OnLive as a disruptive service for bringing affordable and easily accessible gaming to the masses. Could it suggest a path forward for education gaming, too?

– Michael B. Horn


  • Michael B. Horn
    Michael B. Horn

    Michael B. Horn is Co-Founder, Distinguished Fellow, and Chairman at the Christensen Institute.