Gaming and learning at school: No clear answers

Posted on April 15, 2014

Among the many concerns that parents and others may have about children’s gaming activities is the effect that it may have on their academic achievement. Are games taking time away from school and homework? Are they reducing children’s ability to concentrate, think, or interact socially? Or are the claims for the learning benefits of games actually true?


From The Advertiser, April 9, 2014. Journamalism!

As usual, the answers are much more complex than the questions. Recent moral panics might encourage us to counsel caution around video games and fear their impact on children. On the other hand, it is tempting to accept recent findings suggesting that games can have positive effects on the ‘executive functions’ of children, which in turn improves their academic achievement.

This research has two interesting aspects: conducted in Buenos Aires, it focussed on low socio-economic status students, who often experience challenges outside their control. Secondly, it suggests that gaming may moderate the effects of low attendance at school, though video games are not a substitute for attending school!

Even more recent research conducted at Flinders University, reported in today’s Advertiser, smashes the myth that games simply reduce academic achievement, but stops short at suggesting that they have positive effects. This research is great because it is a large analysis taking in lots of data.

The main finding of this research is that ‘Despite widespread suggestions that video-gaming negatively affects academic achievement, the evidence is inconclusive’ (Drummond & Sauer 2014). This is useful research because above all it counsels caution, suggesting that we don’t leap to conclusions about the effect of video game use, no matter how good our intentions are.

Most importantly, this research found some variation in the relationship between gaming and academic performance across schools. In other words, it may be something about the school that influences whether gaming is beneficial or harmful. This further suggests that we need to be careful in making assumptions or generalisations about the value or harm of gaming.


In short, there is no substitute for parents being engaged in their child’s gaming activities – observe them, play with them, and discuss what they’re playing and the experiences they are having with games. Obviously if the amount of gaming significantly impacts upon the time on task in schoolwork, that’s not a good look. Some types of games might be more beneficial than others, so it might be useful to encourage problem-solving games, or puzzle games, or narrative-driven games, to develop in children a richer sense of the life of the mind. Ultimately they will grow up needing to regulate their own media usage, and so some careful guidance, boundaries, and explicit development of this self-regulatory capacity will serve them in good stead for years to come.

Chad Habel

4 Replies to "Gaming and learning at school: No clear answers"

  • Maeve Deery
    April 17, 2014 (4:34 am)

    I do agree that video games themselves are not the direct cause of lower academic performance, but if your child is spending too much time gaming, it could relate to lower academic performance. Parents do need to be involved with their child’s gaming; if video games are played in moderation and mixed in with other activities they can have positive effects on the brain. Cognitive scientist, Daphne Bavelier’s studies show that video gamers show improved skills in vision, attention and certain aspects of cognition. The following link is worth taking a look!

    • Chad Habel
      April 17, 2014 (4:42 am)

      Thanks Maeve, that’s a really good point. Time on task is actually an excellent predictor of academic success; i.e., simply putting in the hours can really make study more successful. As in all things, balance is the key. Great TED link, I’ll have to check it out and share!

  • Lisa
    April 22, 2014 (1:18 am)

    A great post.
    I had always been very wary of letting my twin boys have access to electronic gaming and it was actually a child psychologist who prompted a change of heart. She suggested that gaming could be use as an incentive to achieve and that with proper monitoring and guidance I may find it a useful tool in helping my boys cope with the challenges they faced. Now 5 years later we have firm rules about gaming time and particularly one child is passionate about gaming. A recent psychometric evaluation showed that he was in the high average range for perceptual reasoning (where previously he had been tested as borderline). Part of the reason for this development could be his access to problem solving games like MineCraft. This passion for all things electronic has now been translated to a passion for e-readers and a child who was tentatively diagnosed with dyslexia is reading every night. In my humble experience electronic gaming is not the evil some claim it is – as with most things in life moderation and guidance are required.

  • Chad Habel
    April 22, 2014 (11:20 pm)

    Wow, what a story! Thanks for sharing Lisa. I think the key thing here is ‘appropriate guidance and moderation.’ I was speaking to a colleague yesterday whose son was very much into Knights of the Old Republic, which is one of these massive online multiplayer games. He was a bit concerned about all the online contact so he just opened a dialogue with his son, who was happy to share, explain, and discuss what the game meant to him. Expert opinion is no substitute for knowing what is right for your child, but I’m glad that psych inspired a positive change of heart for you!

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