Some history of games for learning

In Obstacles, Opportunities & Openness. Moving Learning Games Forward Klopfer, Osterweil and Salen (2009) from MIT Scheller Teacher Education Programme tell us about the history of games for learning, at least until 2009, when thy wrote this article, and explain the design, technological and market factors that were a hindrance to the evolution of good learning games.

Popular in the 80s was a range from behaviorist drill and practice exercises (i.e. Math Blaster Davidson/Knowledge Adventure, 1987) to open-ended environments suitable for either exploration or construction (i.e. The Incredible Machine, Jeff Tunnell Productions, 1993).

Wikipedia: Screenshot from The Incredible Machine Version 03

Up to the early 90s floppies were followed by Compact Disks (the CD-ROM era), that supported higher processing speeds, animation, graphic, and higher interactivity (eg. Where in the World is Carmen San Diego, Pajama Sam, and Reader Rabbit). Educational titles were marketed for teachers and parents in computer stores and later in mass retail shops that competed book publishing (eg. atlases, encyclopedias).

Already in the beginning of the 90s, when the PC became a commodity, multiple pressures and powerful market forces slowed development of the learning game industry.

The development of web browsers and the internet layed focus on free content. In the era energy was redirected from the CD-ROMs to the internet, and the fast production of products left little time for time intensive production of learning games. At that time games became a means for attracting people to a site, instead of the destination itself.

The market put pressure to cell cheaper as well as a greater variety of products and publishers invested in licences for characters (eg Sponge Bob) and not on R&D.

The development of games was slowed and their diversity was limited to one very limited model by a rising demand by buyers (eg. parents and teachers) for products narrowly focused on improving school performance. These were products that listed eduactional features, and drill and practice became a lrage component of the industry. Examples of that time are the Jump Start series and the early childhood Leapfrog gaming systems.

According to Klopfer et al. (2009) the future goal is to blend forms and design games that “follow the form of Entertainment titles but nevertheless offer intelectual challenges that contribute to academic accomplishement.” (pp.17)
Due to the still-growing reach of the internet and the proliferation of new game platforms (handhelds, web-enabled videogame consoles, smart phones) the Learning game market is still ripe for innovation and creative destruction. New ways of finding, sampling, and buying games dimish the impact of negative market factors on the evolution of new games (pp.17).
Until the mid of 2000 proponents of GBL had a lot of attention and many research projects were funded. Richard N. Van Eck (2015) suggested however, that although proponents of DGBL convinced their audience that games could play a role in education, they were unprepared in providing practical guidance for implementing DGBL. Van Eck goes on that sometimes they would oversell the benefits and underreport the challenges of using digital games in formal education. According to his opinion what was needed in 2006 was a new focus on 1) research about why DGBL is effective and 2) guidance on how, when, for whom, and under what conditions to integrate digital games into formal education (pp.2)
From 2006 until now research has been carried out to show why DGBL is effective.
Van Eck argues that what is missing today (up to 2015) is the research to guide the design  (or claims) for digital games to promote 21. century skills like problem solving, since there are at least eleven different kinds of problems (Jonassen, D.H. 2000, cited in Van Eck, R.N. 2015).
Klopfer, E., Osterweil, S., Salen, K., & Forward, M. L. G. (2009). Obstacles, Opportunities & Openness. Moving Learning Games Forward, 1, 7-9.

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