Games And Education Are Closely Connected Education Essay

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(Eib-Eibesfeldt, 1987). Even in the animal world we can find this interconnection, which is reflected by the fighting and chasing games of juvenile mammals (Bekoff & Di Motta, 2008). The evolutionary bond of games and education is therefore a very natural condition and was just negated by the institutional forms of education, which enforced a clear distinction between learning (work) and play (free time) (Crawford, 1982). But today's attempts to reconcile games and learning show, that the strict distinction is not irrevocable.

Also MBD -Media Business Development- an originally television production based company, caught a glimpse of the movement towards education-based gaming. Especially in combination with the current trends of digitalization, the opportunity arises to combine both attempts to a new concept of digital educational games. Children nowadays grow up in the age of technology and therefore, game based learning seems to become more important than ever.

For me personally, it is very interesting to find out to what extent children nowadays differ from their habits, interests and way of thinking to the time when I was young. I had no access to any technological device until the age of 14; my free time activities were limited to board games or traditional games like skipping robe or tug-of-war. Children nowadays are overwhelmed by technological devices like mobile phones, computer, smart pads and many more, which gives them the opportunity to spend their free time of all kinds of software with. That makes it even easier to forget about school and homework, but still, it needs to be done. So why not combine both things?

Like me, parents of today's children grew up in a world of institutional, one-sided learning. Mostly, rote-learning and reward orientated learning was used to push information into pupils head, which turned out to be effective but never was fun. The current attempt of combining fun in form of playful elements with educational information seems to be the deliverance from a long lasting route of compulsion for education. But, as parents learned differently back in the days, it difficult to convince them of the quality and effectiveness, educational games can provide regarding education.

With my research, I would like to find out how parents feel about educational games and based on this, I will examine the quality of today's educational games to see if there is a relation to the general opinion. As educational games are an ample topic, I will focus on edutainment, the most popular type of educational games amongst children, in order to not exceed the scope of my research paper.

1.2 The company

1.2.1 Company description

On one hand, MBD is a Media development company, consulting and developing businesses of its clients to maximize their success within the industry. On the other hand, the company gets actively involved in production processes of TV commercials, TV series, games, apps, books and especially in the development process of children series and entertainment. When producing for children, MBD aims for topics, which are entertaining but educational at the same time.

The Swiss edutainment company SCIO represents MBD. Their vision is to "open doors for children so they can step into new worlds and broaden their horizons." MBD promotes ideas with new paradigms in their field, such as knowledge about horse whispering or yoga. Hereby, the company always focuses on the fun effect that children should experience while watching, as, according to the MBD, learning about the world should always be fun.

When elaborating the educational aspect of the programs, MBD conforms to the principles of the International Academy of Education in Brussels.

The company consists of 7 employees and as it is a relatively small company and my company mentor is the owner of MBD.

MBD works with a team of international people for the worldwide market. Hereby, Creativity is at the core value of their work and everybody is invited to share it with everybody else within the company. At the moment, MBD works on the children entertainment series Pixi, which is broadcasted on German television as well as they are coproducing the animated movie Little Panda that will be released in summer 2012. The main challenge for the company is to establish in the business of online educational games for children. The company insists to create an edutainment content that engages children in the learning aspect of games. Herewith, the company follows the current trend of edutainment.

1.2.2 Personal Activities

My position within the company is not clearly defined. As the company does not have a lot of employees, I am responsible of several tasks that are not directly linked to each other. My main job focuses on character development as well as the designing of storyboards. The company's main production is the story development of the children's series Pixi, which is broadcasted on Nickelodeon on German television. My main task is to draw the Pixi storyboard (Hampel, 2010), which I am currently doing together with one other story boarder. However, I am also involved in the storytelling aspect of the particular episodes. Before the actual process of drawing can take place, the whole team sits together and brainstorms on the final scripts. Hereby, I can add valuable ideas to the story that will be visualized in the final product.

Furthermore, we are constantly developing new ideas for children series that could fit into the program of local television or even satisfies international demand. I was working on 3 main concepts till now, which are all targeted towards children between 3 and 8 years. Hereby I could prove my talents in character design and development and I also created the final presentation for the particular ideas.

In addition to the work as a drawer, I could implement my graphic design skills. Dirk Hampel, my boss, and Frank Apfel, the producer and head of the company apfelTV, are currently working on a book about digital television of the future, which I had the honor to add graphics and design to it. I used my Adobe Illustrator and InDesign skills to successfully conduct this task.

Furthermore, I was in charge of designing a logo for a startup company in the music business.

1.3 Problem analysis

The German ministry of education quotes:

'Education is the future. One, who is well educated, has better chances in live. An investment in education means an investment in the future of the country.' (Vitzthum, 2012)

The German government spend 102.8 billion Euro in total on education in 2010, whereas a third went into investment on general knowledge like school education. Never before, education has loomed such large. Especially in the economy of today, global competition and fast pacing development demands highly educated people who follow the principle of life-long learning. This is the only way to keep up with fast pacing development (Quisenberry,2002).

'Children are growing up in a rapidly changing world characterized by dramatic shifts in what all children are expected to know and be able to do.' (Quisenberry,2002).

Whereas a couple of years ago it was enough to do one education and do the job afterwards, todays economy requires constant training and improvement; best to start as early as possible.

Therefore, Germany has proven improvement in childhood development. This has been shown by an increasing performance of pupils in the lower grades, which is partly the result of increasing financial resources and also due to the engagement of parents. Education experts claim that the increased skills of pupils can be traced back to the high support by parents during the afternoon work (Quadbeck, 2012). It seems that, more then ever, parents are eager to support their children's educational development as early as possible.

But there are several problems coming up: first, parents often do not have time to sit down with their children in the afternoon and redo the material, also parents are not qualified and the extent of help is limited to their own abilities. This is also a reason why the skills level of children varies very much. Of course, a tutor can be paid for the homework, but sometimes, the costs and the willingness of children excludes that option.

Furthermore, all day learning leaves less time for children to what they actually supposed to do: playing. It has been proven by several studies that playing is crucial for child development.

'The ability to play is one of the principal criteria of mental health.' (Almon,??)

It seems, that technology brought the solution for that: online edutainment; a concept that first came up in the 90ies and has been around ever since. The Internet age revived the combination of education and entertainment that promises a 'learning with the help of a game'. And it has proven popularity. According to a study conducted in 2011, the future trends in the area of e learning showed that 27 % of children use entertaining educational software in their free time. This year, the games days in Germany is combined with a big edutainment conference, which has never been part of the event in Germany before. So the question comes up: how does edutainment work?

Many researchers have critically assessed Edutainment. Until now, not even the definition is set. The first contrary arguments concern the focus of edutainment. Whereas some claim that the focus lies on the entertainment aspect:

'type of work that is intended to educate while it entertains, generally with a primary focus on education and using its entertainment aspects to encourage learning.' (Kroon, 2010)

another source claims that knowledge is the purpose and entertainment was created around it:

'Education is the presentation of informative or educational material in an entertaining style'

People who argue in favor of edutainment suggest that when educational material is presented in a dry way, people tend to tune out, and they do not actually absorb the material or the lesson. However, some educators have suggested that when material is more amusing than it is educational, students can lose out.

The focus on providing entertainment foremost is also viewed as problematic in some communities, with critics suggesting that people may not be able to focus on less dynamic presentations of material, because they have been deluged in edutainment. In other words, some critics think that edutainment has created its own market by training people to look for amusement before they seek out knowledge. Ehlers and Pawslowsky state in their handbook on quality and standardization on e learning (2006) that:

"The challenge is to avoid edutainment where the need of the market for standardized products outweighs those of the learner."

Denis & Louvelot (2005) accuse Edutainment, to often fail in transmitting non trivial (or previously assimilated) knowledge, calling again and again the same action patterns and not throwing the learning curve into relief" Also Buckingham et al's states:

'Totally depends on an obsessive insistence that learning is inevitably "fun".'

The opinion of researchers and educators about the correct relation of education and game as well as its right implementation is very controversial. It seems that, although the market is booming, nobody really knows what effect edutainment really has and how it can be effectively integrated as an additional support to school education, which would clearly relieve parents from their responsibility. How valuable is education, coming from online edutainment and to what extent is edutainment able to take the load of parents for the afternoon schoolwork? What do parents perceive regarding the effectiveness of edutainment? Depending on this, edutainment might have a chance to bring change in the educational world of today.

For MBD it is essential to find out, how online edutainment reaches the highest learning effect, which enables the company to stand out from the highly competitive landscape by providing high quality products. Furthermore, the company is very interested in the perception of edutainment by parents, who are not the consumer but the customer in that case.

1.4 Research question

1. Is edutainment able to transfer knowledge and still benefit from motivated playing?

2. How well is education integrated into German edutainment websites targeted on children of 6-12 years?

3. How do parents of the target group perceive online edutainment?

1.5 Research objective

The objectives of this research are to link motivation with psychological needs and understand how edutainment can achieve these important aspects in learning. Thereby, the research focuses on investigate former issues and problems of edutainment in the learning and playing environment to investigate changes to current edutainment websites.

Furthermore, the research will analyse existing edutainment game websites according to didactic approaches, game design principles. With the help of a survey amongst parents, research will examine the perception of parents regarding the educational value of edutainment.

1.6 Chapter guide

The theoretical part begins with the relation of education and entertainment. Therefore I will look at the particular goals and measures for both in order to examine how they can be most effectively combined for edutainment. Furthermore, I will lay out the principles for educational effect. Finally, I will transfer this information on online edutainment.

For my research part I will examine 5 edutainment websites and look for the education measure. This will be compared with the founding's I generated from the second research method, the survey. With the help of the survey I will find out, if parents accept edutainment as an additional trainer for scholastic content or if they rather see it as an entertainment game. This will help me to know, if edutainment could establish itself in the market as that what it was supposed to be: a tool for educational purpose.

2 Theoretical framework

2.1 Borders of Edutainment

E- Learning

Although researchers and educators still argue about the extent of learning content within edutainent, edutainment can be better defined according to other educational games. Herefore, Breuer and Bente could establish a basic layout.

Game-based Learning

Serious Games

Online Edutainment



Figure X

As displayed in figure 1, Game-Based Learning covers the broadest range of educational games as it is not limted in target group, content or platform. Serious games have the same criteria but also have application fields outside of education and learning (art, therapy, advertising etc.). Normal edutainment includes any type of games (e.g. board games, card games, sports or digital game) for learning/educational intention, but is limited to the children as the target audience. Wheras serious games cover all kind of content, edutainment deals with informal information related to school work. Digital game-based learning (DGBL) is the section of serious games, which incorporates education/learning as its main or sole purpose and includes therefore online edutainment. However, DGBL serves a broader target group and is therefore to be distinguished from edutainment. However, DGBL is limted to the web as its sole platform, whereas edutainment covers anything.

E - Learning is different from this categorical system as it does not imply any coupling of entertainment and education, but a combination of (digital) media and learning. While edutainment can belong to the e-learning methods, not all e-learning systems are supposed to be entertaining (e.g. podcasts of lectures or computer-based online examinations) Online eduainment ows the smallest market. The target group is set to children, the content on school related subjects and the platform is the worl wide web. After position of online edutainment, the researcher gets now to the important question:

2.1 education and game - a contrary?

»Gamification is an inadvertent con. It tricks people into believing that there's a simple way to imbue their thing ... with the psychological, emotional and social power of a great game.« (Robertson, 2010)

That children love to play games has been proven a couple of times already. The games market in Germany is statically increasing and there is no end in sight. Parents are concerned that their children spend too much time on playing computer games and forget about learning for school. The child on the other hand, does not want to spend more time than necessary on homework. Edutainment seems to be the solution. A combination of parent's interest with children interest: Education in combination with a game. But does it really work that way?

The chocolate-brocoli theory puts it straight: If children do not like broccoli, they will not eat it, regardless, if covered in a nice case of chocolate; so a child that does not want to learn, would not like it, no matter if wrapped up in a nice designed game full of vivid colours and animations.

Fun learning« is not about making something look fun, or playful, or gamelike, fun learning is not about taking a topic onto an existing game mechanic and then hope that some how, magically, »learning« happens. We had to learn that fun learning is not about inserting learning content and test sections into a game (or vice versa)

The trigger for games to generate enjoyment is the design. That means games are not fun because they are games, but when they are well designed. Good game-based learning means, the learning goal should be the game mechanic.

' Learning goal = Game mechanic' (Alejandro Echevaria et al, 2012)

Good edutainment design translates tasks/goals into mechanics - rather than adding one to the other. So,as Raph Koster defines it: fun means learning and learning means fun when applied in the right manner. In order to know how the design must look like, it is first to assess critically, how information needs to be transmitted.

»Fun is just another word for learning.« (2005) Raph Koster, a game designer

2.2 The learning aspect

What is learning? How do children learn? Schönpflug and Schönpflug (1997) defined learning as the extent of one's knowledge and behavioral repertoire by experience. Others describe learning as an internal process that results in behaviour modifications (Lefrancois & Leppmann, 2004). The following section will outline the underlying learning theories that shape the educational effect of edutainment.

They do not actively involve the gamer in the learning process but leaves him as a passive information receiver. This didactic principle, called behaviourism (stimulus-response model), is based on the assumption that the learner is a 'black box' and receives all information from the outside world. For instance, schools work according this model. The teacher 'sends' information to the pupil, he receives it and is required to memorize it (Baumgartner & Payr, 1999). This theory however is used by the, so-called, drill and practice games (Issing, 2002). Many point and click games are reward systems that reward children with something nice if they mastered the level. In edutainment, it means when solved the educational challenge. This approach is not just out-dated but does not fit to the age of multimodality anymore. Furthermore, the learning effect is proven to be of short time effect, which will be explained in the motivation section.

Todays hypermedia learning environments - learning environments based on hypertext systems and multimodality (Baumgartner & Payr, 1999)- offer the ability to base edutainment on another learning theory: Constructivism believes that reality is not objectively given but needs to be constructed subjectively. Therefore, the learner does not follow a default way to learn but has to find his own ways based on specific situations. It is important to figure out and to manage problems according to knowledge gathered from earlier experiences. The learner assumes an active, autonomous role within the constructivist-learning model. Teachers become trainer or moderators of a learning process that is more or less independently controlled by the learner.

But how is that related to the game principles?

2.3 The game aspect

By looking at characteristics of play, it is obvious that it does not differ from the constructivist learning approach. Play is as well a quintessentially autonomous activity. Because the child engages with it voluntarily, for its own sake, it gives the intrinsically enjoyable experience of being autonomous. So does it mean that children will voluntarily play this cool learning game in school if only it is fun enough?

No, because the order is set wrong: Gameplay is fun because the child is voluntarily engaged, because in doing something for its own sake, it experiences autonomy. Autonomy does not simply mean independence, lots of choice, or the absence of constraints (though the presence of meaningful choice may support the experience of autonomy).

'To be autonomous means to behave with a sense of volition, willingness, and congruence; it means to fully endorse and concur with the behaviour one is engaged in.' (Deci &Ryan, 2012)

Autonomy means to act with a perceived internal focus of causality and self-concordance: The experience that the child is willed into an action based on its congruence with our personal needs, goals, and values. It can be best described by an example of a child doing homework. According to the feeling and thoughts about doing the homework, the child will experience a greater learning outcome. According to the self-determination theory, the greatest learning outcome will be generated by the highest motivation: intrinsic motivation, which means that the child is willing to do the homework due to inner conviction (constructivism). The lowest learning outcome would be generated from extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation is an example for behaviouristic learning, where a reward system should engage the learner to be motivated. The following graph gives a better insight into the principles of motivation according to the mentioned example.

Level of motivation


Feeling of the chid

unautonomous motivation


The child does not like the homework

Extrinsic motivation

Does it for external rewards

Introjected motivation

Instead of others controlling the child with punishments and rewards, it is controlling itself via its ego and sense of self-worth

autonomous motivation

Identified motivation

The child doesn't perceive the activity as an outer demand by others (internalized as inner voices or not but understands the value of the activity for itself)

Integrated motivation

the child not only sees the immediate value or need of the activity for herself, but that the need is well-connected to and integrated in a harmonious, organized whole of inner goals and needs, there is no internal tug of competing or disagreeing interests and goals

Intrinsic motivation

learning as source of inherent enjoyment

Autonomous play as well as autonomous learning also requires a safe place situation, which means a lack of outer demands, distractions or threats. It is important for playing to be disconnected from intended serious consequences - the result of playing is not supposed to be taken and translated into some outer, instrumental purpose or consequence - or into a statement or judgement about the worth of the participants.

Psychosocial moratorium principle: Learners can take risks in a space where real-world consequences are lowered.' (Gee, 2003)

Such a safe space is important not only because it allows learning by failure, but also because it supports, again, the experienced autonomy of the situation: There is no instrumental end to it. You can focus on it for its own sake.

Also, acoording to Koster, games are systems, built for the purpose to put learnable challenges in the path - and thus give rise to the pleasure of overcoming them. The central joy and thrill of gaming lies in the tension between a challenge and the feeling of mastery, control, competence, self-efficacy in our successful resolution of it.

'Fun from games arises out of mastery, it arises out of comprehension. It Is the act of solving puzzles that makes games fun. With games, learning is the drug.' (Koster, 2005)

A third element present in most play activity is that it is »as if«, fictional: The actors change or add to change the meaning of involved persons, actions, objects. Not only do they have no serious consequence - they are also not meant »seriously«. Instead of their instrumental meaning and function, the child adds own stories, rules, goals and meanings to them.

Fourthly, to the extent that play is a collective enterprise, this shift in consequence and meaning has to be carried by everyone. Everyone has to »play along«, otherwise the play breaks down. Such playing along involves a shared active focus on and valuing of certain modes of action: First off, exploring, trying out new combinations of actions, objects, meanings.

For children, play is a place of benign transgression: Exploring to what extent and effect you might step out of some social rules, norms and conventions. This (according to the benign violation theory) is the source of all humour and humour in play. The important bit here is that this transgression is done for the sake of everyone's enjoyment, not to seriously hurt anyone (then it becomes trolling). The point of a benign transgression like an office prank is to have fun together. If the pranked would start crying because he felt seriously hurt, it would stop being fun - and stop being play.

»It is the nature of a fun community to care more about the players than about the game. ... We are having fun. We are caring. We are safe with each other. This is what we want.« Bernie de Koven the well-played game (1978: 19-20)

So why is autonomous play important for learning? A well-played game carries the unique enjoyment of autonomously exercising our competencies, in a relation with supporting-supported others.

there is now several decades of solid empirical evidence that autonomously motivated (learning) activities is unilaterally better for learning, performance, socio-emotional development and well-being than controlled activities.

play - a space of control, safety, trust, and mutual care - is the opposite of fear, of fight-or-flight reactions. And again, decades of research has proven that intense situational fear and stress, chronic fear and stress, and learned fear reactions are toxic forhealth, well-being, cognitive development, and learning

play itself is crucial for psychosocial development. As Vygotsky already noted, in make-believe play, children learn to add our own goals, rules and meanings onto reality and free themselves from the rule of external and internal impulses by submitting to chosen others.

If playfulness is crucial for learning and motivation, the obvious conclusion is that edutainment should be designing for playfulness.

2.4 the powerful learning environment

To conclude, education and entertainment go hand in hand. By regarding the principles of play, education can easily be integrated in the learning process without standing out as 'the compulsory learning material'. By looking at the principles of play, edutainment can provide powerful learning environments (Betrancourt, Dillenbourg & Montarnal, 2003), which means: Learners are encouraged to gather their own knowledge, learn in realistic situations and to learn in groups. Powerful learning environments promote active, autonomous and constructive learning and present collaborative activities (De Jong & Pieters, 2006).

Be actively involved in the learning process

Be autonomous

provide intrinsic motivation to learn

Provide multimodal learning, which means to involve as many senses as possible in the learning process

Follow the constructivist learning principle: learning by doing

It has been proven already 20 years ago that Children learn best by doing, interacting, and exploring rather than watching and/or listening. If children are able to explore, manipulate and play, it has a higher effect on the learning process than to teach young children (Kantrowitz & Wingert, 1989). So how can this be transferred to online edutainment?

2.5 Why online edutainment?

First, why does online edutainment would fit into society today?

The idea of playful learning is nothing new, however, digitalisation helped the edutainment idea to gain a new level of popularity. On one hand, the target group changed. Nowadays, children, the digital natives (Prensky, 2001) search for information, learn differently and have therefore different needs and ideas when it comes to education then a couple of years ago. They suddenly become teachers to adults, the digital immigrants (Prensky, 2007), in terms of computer handling and information gathering. But also the new generation of teachers is able to process information simultaneously and prefers a networking and explorative education rather than a lined and structured form of learning (Prensky, 2007).

On the other hand, the gaming industry experiences great boom. Worldwide, the turnover on sales went from 7,98 $ billions in 2000 to 19,7 $ billion in 2009 and its estimated for an amount of 30,5 $ billion n 2014 (see appendix A). Germany owes the largest online market in Europe (62 million internet users) and therefore creates considerable potential for companies in the online gaming segment (Henkel, 2010). The popularity of online games is based on immersive experiences due to the convergence of virtual worlds, games, social networking and rich Internet applications (RIAs) (Derryberry, 2007).

Researchers believe, virtual worlds enable children to create a personal reality with the full extent of fantasy and imagination without sticking to rules of the real world. A study conducted in 2008 from BBC concerning their own online game adventure rock confirmed that virtual worlds can be the perfect place for children to rehearse the values children would need in real life (Oblinger, 2004).

'This is where children can unleash their creativity to create their own avatars. Different from watching television, virtual worlds are not "passive" forms of entertainment. Children can fully interact' (, 2012)

Additional distinctive advantages of online edutainment are (, 2012):

• Online edutainment is the perfect tool to sharpen skills in critical thinking and interaction as the child would be in the real world

• The global orientation of online edutainment fosters the exchange of thoughts and ideas, which encourages for creative thinking

• Online edutainment can teach children how to deal with the mass of information available online

• Online edutainment is very easy to access by the user as it does not require extra hardware and can be reached by just a simple click.

Now that it has been assessed, how edutainment should look like, the question comes up how learning principles can be transferred in online edutainment.

Online edutainment can be a PLE when designed according to principle of play and by using the hypermedia learning environment. The internet can provide a new world of multimodal, autonomous, intrinsic and collaborative learning when just designed in the right way. And, indeed, research has shown that well designed e-learning activities, when presented with the active participation of a trained tutor, can increase young children's cognitive abilities (Lawrence, 1992). Also, Chang and Osguthorpe (1990) found that kindergarten children who worked with a computer achieved higher scores in tests of word identification and reading comprehension than children of traditional learning.

Defining edutainment know for its most effective purpose it would be:

Edutainment is a hybrid genre that merges uses criteria for play according to constructivist learning principle to engage the learner in a powerful learning environement of active, autonomous, individual and collaborative thinking. The process is shaped by a self regulative learning; the learner decides how much, when and where the information is gathered.

How did current edutainment software implemented the theory?