How Digital Gaming Enhances Non-Formal and Informal Learning

How Digital Gaming Enhances Non-Formal and Informal Learning

Daniel Aranda (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Spain) and Jordi Sánchez-Navarro (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-495-0.ch019
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This study presents the results of three investigations on the use of digital gaming in non-formal (leisure institutions) and informal (household context) education. These are: (1) an empirical enquiry on the uses and perceptions of Spanish teenagers in relation to digital technologies as tools for leisure and socialization, (2) an intervention in a public school in Barcelona, in which this chapter analyzes the introduction of video games in the context of leisure activities, and (3) a workshop for families to discuss the cultural and social significance of the use of video games in the household. The results of these experiences have allowed for observation of the youth in their environment and verification that their uses of technology and attitudes towards digital gaming have a great potential for non-formal and informal learning.
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The debate over the use of video games is one of the most lively and omnipresent in our public discussions regarding contemporary media, especially in those areas where entertainment and educational practices converge. When most parents and teachers think about video games, they show an obvious concern about the dynamics of use among the younger population in issues, such as excessive consumption or overuse of violence in some games.

Schools, as the formal education institution of reference, have long reflected and investigated the possibilities of introducing different digital resources into the classroom, including video games. The aim of these interventions, without going into too much detail, is to improve the quality and effectiveness of school educational practices and processes.

With respect to educational institutions that work in the field of non-formal or leisure education, this reflection and experimentation with digital leisure resources has not yet been carried out. Despite the fact that these institutions use the traditional game as an educational tool, digital gaming is still seen as the enemy they have to fight against.

In relation to informal learning, the family and household context is one of the most important settings where informal learning takes place, and at the same time, is also the primary location where the activity of playing video games occurs. On most occasions, the conversations around video games in the household revolve around the time spent on them or the kind of games that the youngsters play. On the contrary, the conversations regarding how to play or the ways of achieving some of the goals of the game are not common.

This study provides some conclusions of three activities or research projects in the field of leisure education and informal learning related to children, teens, and parents regarding video games (or better stated, digital gaming and tinkering with digital technologies) as tools that can potentially enrich their institutional or family activities and relationships. Taking into account that aiding access to Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) is a primordial aim in any contemporary educational project, this study states that it is necessary to go one step beyond, thus using and reinforcing ICTs as significant personal and social objects. We need to integrate new digital technologies, which obviously include video games, into our daily lives, involving education and family context, as video games can be powerful tools in the sense that they can be used to work on group social cohesion as well as to reflect about effort, frustration, and pleasure. Thus, three activities are presented in this study on the use of video games in non-formal (leisure institutions) and informal (household context) education: (1) an empirical research embedded in a larger project funded by the Spanish Ministry of Industry, which aims to integrate resources and digital tools, including video games, in the space of non-formal education in collaboration with the Catalan Esplai Foundation – an organization that mobilizes more than 15,000 children and youngsters; (2) a digital classroom in a public school in Barcelona in the context of leisure activities; and (3) a set of workshops for families on the cultural and social significance of the use of video games, funded by the autonomous administration of Catalonia.

With regard to the nature of the cultural and social transformation in a digital environment, it is obvious that the new generations are growing up in a social and cultural context in which sharing is associated with social networks like ©Facebook or peer-to-peer networks; buying or selling is related to Ebay© or Amazon©; creating is linked to blogging; and collecting information is associated with using Google© or the Wikipedia©. Beyond labels and stereotypes, most of the studies on the activities of youth in these digital environments state that these activities profoundly affect the way they work, study, collaborate, communicate, and solve problems. Common sense seems to assume that the so-called digital natives are completely immersed in the world of video games. In contrast, the results of our quantitative research in Spain show that only 42.4% of the young people from 12 to 18 years of age usually play video games.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Digital Gaming: In a broad sense, digital gaming includes, but is much more than, playing using software running on PCs, consoles, or portable devices. It not only encompasses a wide range of cultural and media practices, including those designed specifically to be played, but also comprises other practices that provide pleasures derived from playful tinkering with digital technologies.

Social Use: Through their social use, cultural resources, such as TV programs, fashion, music, and others including video games, have become more than tools for knowledge. They have become powerful mechanisms for building our own world structure, providing us with tools for identity construction, status negotiation, and peer-to-peer sociality.

Non-Formal Learning: Refers to activities that are explicitly designated as learning, which are embedded in the leisure-time associations as a part of their curricula and objectives. Non-formal learning is intentional for the educator, but not from the learner’s point of view.

Informal Learning: It is defined as learning resulting from daily-life activities related to work, family, or leisure. It is often referred to as experiential learning, and can, to a certain degree, be understood as accidental learning. It is not structured in terms of learning objectives or learning time. Informal learning may be intentional, but in most cases, it is nonintentional.

Cultural Consumption: According to a more complex theory about the interaction between producers and consumers – a theory that goes beyond the absolute figures of consumption in economic terms – we are neither the passive victims portrayed by the “critique of mass culture” school, nor are we the liberated consumers reported by many other authors. We are creative, active individuals, working with a range of cultural materials, and through a range of consumption practices, constructing and making sense of our everyday life.

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