Learning by Playing

gameI have previously written about Advergames – those little games you find on websites and mobile phones which are a branded form of marketing communication blurred with entertainment (especially the ethical aspects of it here and here). What I haven’t talked about in the blog is what makes them effective. From a theoretical point of view there are various theories that can explain the effectiveness of these games. The most frequently used (and easiest to understand) one is Social Cognitive Theory. In  a nutshell, Social Cognitive Theory assumes that people can “train” how to behave by observing others, expanding and enhancing Social Learning Theory (a similar framework by Bandura). Social Cognitive Theory brings together three factors which influence behaviour: cognitive, behavioural and environmental factors. All three factors are synergistic, i.e. they enhance each other. In a game environment, all three factors are influenced:

Cognitive factors are the “know how to”: Through simulation, games can show how something is done – the player can learn skills in the game, and then apply them in the real world.

Behavioural factors are the “doing it”: Again, when playing the gamer can do things almost as if they were real.  Simulation may not be the same thing as actually doing it – but it makes the gamer feel as if they can perform the behaviour (increasing self-efficacy) and almost as if they have done it already, which also includes knowing how to (the cognitive factors). If performed frequently in a game context, a behaviour can also feel more normal (environmental factor)

Environmental factors are factors such as social perception of the behaviour, accessibility etc – so everything in the environment that makes it easier to perform a behaviour (or inhibit it). Again, environmental factors are synergistic with the other factors: If you know how, and have “virtually” done it before – it may be easier to find out how to do it in the real world . So the skills learned can now be performed in a different (for example real) environment.

How does SCT get used? It is a very broad theory. The most obvious applications come from the field of “serious gaming”, where SCT is used to create health-related games. Here, people can practice potential outcomes in a games setting – and then apply the learned skills in real life. For example, Solousville teaches kids about being active and nutrition. So, kids can visit a grocery store online, and shop for foods that will be nutritious. Similarly, they can visit the campsite for suggestions of how to be active … in the end, the idea is, of course, that they will do so in real life.

Do you know of any great “healthy” games? Share them by using the comment function below.

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