Minecraft in Education Benefits Learning and Social Engagement

Minecraft in Education Benefits Learning and Social Engagement

Omar Alawajee (Department of Special Education, College of Sciences and Arts, Qassim University, Ar Rass, Saudi Arabia) and Jonathan Delafield-Butt (University of Strathclyde, UK)
Copyright: © 2021 |Pages: 38
DOI: 10.4018/IJGBL.2021100102
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Empirical evidence suggests game-based learning (GBL) as a potentially engaging form of contemporary learning. With the increase in the use of Minecraft, a sandbox computer game in open-world format, there has been a concurrent rise in the level of interest in investigating the role of Minecraft in social and academic learning. Minecraft is socially interactive, and its cooperative, rather than competitive, open-world gameplay suggests that it could be used for educational purposes. This paper presents a systematic review of all published peer-reviewed research and synthesises the evidence for and against Minecraft's use in education to better understand the applicability of Minecraft in educational and psychological interventions. Forty-two papers were identified. These revealed Minecraft to be beneficial in terms of increased motivation, language development, and academic learning in subjects such as science and history. Minecraft play also supported the development of social skills, including communication, sharing, collaboration, and leadership. Concerns about age-appropriateness, safety, technology use, and learning generalisation were raised, but on balance, the evidence favours an informed and guided employment of Minecraft for improved opportunities for learning and engagement in education.
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The use of digital games in learning was first adopted in the 1970s, but its widespread use in mainstream classrooms only started in 2007 (Halverson, 2012). Children learn through active engagement with their environment (Baldwin, 1894, 1906; Piaget, 1953, 1962). They test its possibilities and explore its contingencies (Delafield-Butt & Gangopadhyay, 2013; Trevarthen & Delafield-Butt, 2014), self-creating what philosopher A.N. Whitehead (1933) called ‘an adventure of ideas’. The engagement of children with other people, ideas or things requires skills that are sensitive to the social situation and the demands of the task, such as self-regulation, awareness, and attention that offer learning in how things proceed (Delafield-Butt, 2018; Trevarthen & Delafield-Butt, 2015; Tronick, 2007; Eisenberg, Valiente, and Eggum-Wilkens, 2010; Blair, 2002). They create stories or a narrative intelligence of how things are related to each other and highlight their social value. Each child who plays is socially engaged in the adventure of learning (Bruner 2003, Trevarthen & Delafield-Butt, 2013; Delafield-Butt & Adie, 2016; Whitehead 1929; Donaldson, 1978). These stories give meaning to life’s projects and draw attention to understanding the nature of problems within contexts or worlds (Trevarthen & Delafield-Butt, 2013; Bruner, 1990). Within this view, a principal aim of education is to teach learners to think through ‘self-directed activity’ (Ozmon & Craver, 2008, p.26). Digital games, with their self-directed play, can help students to become independent thinkers. According to Gee (2013), the purpose of digital games in learning is “to make every learner a proactive, collaborative, reflective, critical, creative, and innovative problem solver; a producer with technology and not just a consumer; and a fully engaged participant and not just a spectator in civic life and the public sphere” (p.1).

Digital games can be used for learning and can be employed for different theoretical approaches, such as through increasing desired behaviours within a trial-and-error approach (behavioural); observing multiple models (social cognitive theory); the process and retrieval of knowledge (information processing theory) and motivating social interaction (intersubjective and social cognition) (Felicia, 2009; Wardlow, 2014). Gee (2017) argues that a game is not limited to fun, but rather that digital games are a “set of well-designed problems to solve” (p.118). A large proportion of digital games are set up with multiple players engaged in the game environment at the same time, providing a form of socialisation where “all sorts of people, institutions, and interest groups get involved and help move meanings in different directions through their talk, arguments, actions, interactions…etc” (p.150). Play contributes to learning and cognitive development and “a child's greatest achievements are possible in play; achievements that will tomorrow become his basic level of real action and morality” (Vygotsky, 1978, p.100). Vygotsky (1986) recommended that learners interact with others, such as peers, teachers and other experts, to help make learning socially meaningful; a notion that stands in agreement with the social intersubjective psychology of learning (Trevarthen and Delafield-Butt, 2013). Learners may then implement what they have learned from one place to another, employing a social tool for problem-solving (Lutz & Huitt, 2004). Emphasis on social interaction in learning necessitates an enjoyable and fun method for improving social, as well as cognitive, development that gives an emotional and embodied foundation to learned facts because they are lived and shared (Delafield-Butt, 2018).

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