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Why Are Educational Games All Just Brain Training?

2009 December 16
by Richard N. Landers
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THE Journal recently pointed me at a website with free educational games called Brain Games.  “Great,” I thought, opening the site.  “Perhaps I can use some of these in my undergraduate psychology courses.”  But then came the familiar disappointment I feel whenever I look at “educational games”: the same rehashed ideas converted into an online format, many of which were invented at least a century ago.  Word Search, Slide Puzzles, Tic Tac Toe.  My mind boggles at the creativity displayed!

Of course, if you want online versions of things we’ve had for a hundred years, this is a fantastic site.  And there are certainly a few more creative and uncommon variants of the classics, and even a couple of challenging gems.  But where are the truly challenging and unique ones, like Light Bot?

And more central to our purposes here, where are the online games that actually teach you useful knowledge or a skill?  From my perspective, the games on these web sites aren’t educational at all; they are mostly cognitive practice, or in the parlance of the games that began the trend, brain training.

Games motivate players to learn their rule systems and practice learned skills within the world they create, all in the context of fun.  What a perfect environment for training and adult education!  So why hasn’t it been done?  Where are the psychology games?  Where are the sales games?  What barriers are preventing gaming from taking the education world by storm?

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  1. December 16, 2009

    In your article above, you said:

    “Games motivate players to learn their rule systems and practice learned skills within the world they create, all in the context of fun. What a perfect environment for training and adult education! So why hasn’t it been done?”

    Have you looked at LearningRx, Inc?

    LearningRx has created, in our centers, a one-on-one training environment that creates rule systems and asks students to practice learned skills by staying between the lines of those rules. Essentially, we’ve created that “context of fun” that you mention to strengthen cognitive skills. But instead of practicing those skills in the context of a computer-to-human relationship, we use a human-to-human relationship. That’s why I say it’s been done, just not online. In fact, any online game that you find claiming to be “brain training” is, at best, support material. They can be fun, and depending on the game, worthwhile, but the really amazing results come from one-on-one brain training.

    So, I think the answer to your question is: It has been done. But instead of training people in specific disciplines, we train the cognitive skills needed to excel in any discipline or subject.

    If you’re interested in something that creates a fun environment that builds serious skills (processing speed, memory, auditory processing, attention) needed for success in life – take a look at LearningRx.

  2. December 16, 2009

    “Strengthening cognitive skills” sounds like a more specific, targeted version of brain fitness training – and I agree that such training can be valuable, but it cannot replace specific skills training. Take sales, for example – I’m aware of no scientific evidence that processing speed, memory, attention (etc) training alone would improve sales (job) performance.

    Also, based on learningrx.com, it looks like LearningRx is targeted at children and adolescents. Do you think the skills you train would generalize to adults? Or perhaps more interestingly, do you think you could conduct such training on seniors (where brain fitness is potentially more valuable, to stave off dementia and other like conditions) and do better than online games alone?

    • LLLookAtYouHacker permalink
      October 11, 2012

      “It cannot replace specific skills training.” Or more bluntly, text-book intelligence.

      Not specifically relating to the author alone, but It’s tragic how numerous individuals perceive the entire hierarchy of intelligence to consist of nothing more than specified abilities, which in my mind is grossly false (and one of main criticisms inflicted against the legitimacy of specific IQ test results; there are many species of intelligence.)

      The human brain is naturally more capable than merely harnessing established/documented knowledge required to engage in a mundane fields of work.

  3. December 17, 2009

    You’re right – we can’t train the brain to perform specific skills like being a better salesperson. And your idea for making games that would strengthen sales skills and other job skills is a really good one, and doesn’t seem to really exist. At least, not that I’ve heard of. What is interesting (and what many people don’t realize) is that learning *itself* is a learned skill, just like learning to sell, or learning to playing the piano. It requires drills and practice, just like anything. (The tendency is to believe that the ability to learn is something inate – probably brought on by the common belief that your “IQ” score number is a static thing that can’t be changed. We know this isn’t true).

    Anyway, I guess my point is that a.) you can learn to be a great salesman by practice and b.) if you’ve developed great learning skills first, your efforts to be a better salesman will be greatly enhanced. Any subject, practice, or discipline will be easier if your brain learns efficiently. And that’s what we do – train the brain to be more efficient.

    We do train adults, and although the website is targeted more towards youth, our centers do train adults: businesspeople, seniors, stroke victims, TBI victims, etc. Our centers have seen a lot of soldiers lately. It’s wonderful that we can help them get back on their feet after traumatic brain injuries sustained overseas. Anyway, yes, brain training is helpful to anyone of any age. However, we do see more school-age children than any other demographic.

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