Playful Education and Innovative Gamified Learning Approaches

Playful Education and Innovative Gamified Learning Approaches

George P. Pavlidis (Athena Research Centre, Greece) and Stella Markantonatou (Athena Research Centre, Greece)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3053-4.ch015


In the recent decades, there has been a significant investment in the incorporation of games in the educational practice. This has taken either the form of game-based learning or serious gaming. A literature review on gaming and education results in numerous works tackling different aspects of the approach. Even a simple search on the Web on gaming and learning produces multi-million results. In this work, we try to touch not only the surface of this approach and provide typical game-based learning evaluation results but also to explore its inner workings (offering a modest mixed philosophical and science aspect) and to provide an even more concrete foundation for a playful education.
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Playing is an archetypical activity that arises from primordial biological structures existing before the conscience or the capacity for speech; it is not something a person decides to do (Brown & Vaughan, 2010). According to the same study, playing is an activity with specific qualitative features such as (a) it is seemingly pointless, (b) it is voluntary, (c) it is genuinely attractive, (d) it disconnects from the sense of time, (e) it reduces self-consciousness, (f) it enhances improvisation, (g) it creates a desire to go on and on. In addition, playing could include (a) anticipation, (b) surprise, (c) entertainment, (d) understanding, (e) power and (f) balance.From the perspective of neuroscience, several works have emphasized the value of play in the development of the brain. It has been many year now that neuroscientists like Sergio Pellis and Andrew Iwaniuk along with biologist John Nelson in their research (Iwaniuk, Nelson, & Pellis, 2001; Pellis & Iwaniuk, 2002) discovered strong positive association between the size of the brain with the propensity to play in mammals, in general. In addition, Panksepp (see for example in Gordon, Burke, Akil, Watson, & Panksepp, 2003) has shown that participation in playing selectively activates a brain derived neurotrophic factor in the amygdala and in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Near the ending of the twentieth century, Byers (Byers, 1998; Byers, 1989; Byers, 1999), in his research on animal play, speculated that during play, the brain creates a sense of self, through simulation and testing. Play essentially helps in the formation of the brain. While playing the brain is able to experience situations without threatening its physical or emotional integrity. In addition, in as early as 1964, Diamond, Krech, & Rosenzweig (1964) reported the development of rats with larger and more complex brains using play. According to Brown & Vaughan (2010), while playing new cognitive combinations are being created using fantasy, in a way in which a complex brain attempts to self-develop and interpret the world.

Play, in all those researches, seems to emerge as a simulation mechanism in the brain of many species (not only humans). A question naturally emerges from this insight: if playing is a simulation mechanism what is being simulated? An easy answer would be the world, as perceived by each one. According to Metzinger (2009) and his work on the ego and consciousness, there is an objective world out there, but as we try to make sense of it using unconscious filtering mechanisms, we are creating our own interpretation of the world, our own reality tunnel. We are never in touch with the objective reality, as those filtering mechanisms (senses, the brain, experiences and hypotheses) prevent us from seeing the world as it is; we only see what can be seen through the reality tunnel we construct in a process that is totally transparent (invisible) to us. We know the world using reflections, since a (correct) reflection is ultimately what we call knowledge. Each one lives in a virtual or artificial world, with the conscious experience being a virtual reality (or maybe better, a simulation) created by nature as a real-time and ever operative world model that supports the interaction between living organisms. In this world model, the ego is nothing more than a pointer on a space-time map, putting a self on the stage of time and space that defines the now and the where.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Playful Education: The result of a seamless integration of play and learning, under the general scope of game-based learning, that is mainly empowered by the usage or application of state-of-the-art technology and innovative narratives and storytelling.

Gamification: The use of specific approaches and techniques, specifically game mechanics, in various environments and settings, in order to attract people in problem solving and to enhance their contribution in a pleasant manner.

Knowledge Integration: The integration of an indefinite amount of digital knowledge resources from various disciplines that can be structured or unstructured, and are stored on the Web or somewhere in the Cloud (anywhere in the world).

Serious Games: Initially, serious games where considered to be games with a purpose. The basic idea behind serious games is to hide important and time-consuming tasks behind a gaming veil. They can be applied in societal studies, in crowdsourcing projects and any setting under which the players are actually contributors to a cause that is hidden behind the game.

Game-Based Learning: A special case of gamification applied in education and lifelong learning. Usually includes the integration of educational models, educational content, gaming concepts and high-tech digital visualization and interaction in a single package.

Game Engine: A software application that includes an authoring and programming interface and a number of software libraries that provide high quality graphics and visualization, simulation of real-world physics, animation and interaction mechanisms, to aid users in the implementation of digital interactive games for various platforms.

Educational Games: Are games designed to aid in learning about specific subjects, in expanding concepts, in stimulating growth, in understanding a historical event or a culture, in developing a skill while playing; educational games can be applied in any educational environment using any gaming approach.

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