By Ramin Nadaf
Looking for a job at a top-flight investment bank? There's an app for that.
Barclays recently released a mobile stock-trading game to attract and evaluate potential job applicants. The game allows users to practice trading skills and, if their virtual portfolio performs well enough, win a conversation with a "Barclays Markets professional." In the past several months, more than 4,500 college students have played the game. Seventeen have received job offers.
This new app reflects the growth of games as more than just time-wasters. Barclays and companies like it are largely taking their cues from primary and secondary schools, which have made games a key component of teaching for years.
Colleges and universities, however, have been slower to "gamify." And that needs to change. An emerging body of research is proving that games can better engage college students and improve academic performance - largely by making learning more fun.
Modern life is saturated with games. Globally, people spend more than three billion hours per week playing video and computer games. In the United States, four in five households have at least one gaming device.
Given their ubiquity, it makes sense to apply games to schoolwork. Many teachers have done so through game-based learning, in which actual video games are used to teach specific skills. Take the online game "Whack-A-Bone," which teaches the names, locations, and functions of bones and muscles throughout the human body. Or the H&R Block Budget Challenge, which provides instruction in the basics of personal finance by making a game of saving for college.
Done right, game-based learning can be fun. Students who learn through games are more engaged with the material and more immune to distractions. They also benefit from a direct sense of accomplishment while learning.
That fun improves student outcomes. Seventy percent of K-12 teachers who use games in their lessons say they improve their students' educational experience.
Incorporating games into education also individualizes learning by allowing students to proceed at their own pace. Some 60 percent of K-12 teachers say games help them personalize their instruction for students.
Despite the success of games in primary and secondary schools, a recent study found that only 13 universities were using game-based learning. Even fewer had gamified their curricula.
The trend isn't going away, though. The next generation of college students will be even more hooked on game-based learning than the current one. And institutions of higher learning that are embracing game-based learning are already garnering positive attention.
Take "Pharma College," a game developed by Chamberlain College of Nursing, which challenges students to meticulously review, dose, and administer medication. The game features pop-up questions and quizzes to help students prepare for the nursing license exam. In total, it offers more than 4,000 unique medication orders using more than 300 drugs. Seven in 10 participants who used the game said it helped their learning. Nearly half said it made the class more fun.
Other schools have seen similar results. Last fall, a group of colleges across the United States used game-based learning to help students adapt to college-level writing. The games simulated real-world scenarios in which the learners practiced grammar fundamentals, editing, research, and more. In the end, more than 86 percent of the faculty involved thought the games added value to their courses, and almost 80 percent said it improved students' writing.
Some critics of the increasing presence of games in education worry that they isolate students and diminish the social interactions and collaboration that happen in a traditional classroom. But many online educational games actually encourage students to work together for a common cause. Online games can also enhance participation by empowering students who might normally be too shy to speak up in class.
Game-based learning isn't just for elementary schoolers and investment bankers. It's starting to exert a meaningful, positive impact on college students, too. It's time for more institutions of higher learning to take the plunge - and let the games begin.