The Use of Educational Video Games in Knowledge Retention

The fol­low­ing post was pre­pared by Elaine Hirsch, and it pro­vides a quick overview of some of the research around gaming.

Elaine Hirsch is a jack-of-all-interests, from edu­ca­tion and his­tory to med­i­cine and video games. This makes it dif­fi­cult to choose just one life path, so she is cur­rently work­ing as a writer for var­i­ous education-related sites and writ­ing about all these things instead. She can be reached at

Research has shown that edu­ca­tion­ally mod­i­fied, computer-based video games have the poten­tial to increase play­ers’ basic knowl­edge reten­tion. This directly con­tra­dicts the preva­lent assump­tion that video games are merely a dis­trac­tion from “proper learn­ing.” More­over, these find­ings sug­gest games can be used as pow­er­ful tools to advance learn­ing from online PhD pro­grams to kinder­garten classrooms.

The Uni­ver­sity of Kansas con­ducted research that sug­gested games can be used not only for the pur­pose of advanc­ing learn­ing, but also to impart very spe­cific knowl­edge in their play­ers. Three groups were admin­is­tered a test of their abil­ity to recall cer­tain his­tor­i­cal events. One group pre­pared by view­ing a Pow­er­Point pre­sen­ta­tion and the remain­ing groups pre­pared with the aid of video games.

The two groups that used video games to pre­pare demon­strated a marked increase in knowl­edge reten­tion. The increase was attrib­uted to the psy­cho­log­i­cal effect of par­tic­i­pants being able to engage their minds to a greater degree than that of the group that pas­sively observed the Pow­er­Point presentation.

Andrew Moshir­nia, the author of the study, con­cluded that when video games are designed to include spe­cific edu­ca­tional for­mats, they can be effec­tively used by edu­ca­tors as learn­ing tools for their stu­dents. His study showed stu­dents who were exposed to these types of edu­ca­tion­ally mod­i­fied video games improved imme­di­ate knowl­edge recall.

Mean­while, Boston stu­dents have found video games played on mobile devices rein­force infor­ma­tion learned in biol­ogy classes. Sim­i­larly, a group of New York City 8th grade stu­dents who played Nin­tendo DS were able to over­come mis­con­cep­tions about the processes of pho­to­syn­the­sis. Stu­dents in Texas have also been shown to visu­al­ize physics con­cepts bet­ter when they were exposed to a library of online simulations.

The National Research Coun­cil explored the poten­tial of edu­ca­tional video games for sci­ence learn­ing. The study was pre­sented to a group of edu­ca­tors, one of whom was Daniel Schwartz, a Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sor of Edu­ca­tion. Schwartz sug­gested the use of edu­ca­tional video games in an alter­na­tive way when he remarked about how the games can col­lect large amounts of data about their play­ers, and how those data can aid edu­ca­tors in under­stand­ing how stu­dents learn.

At present there is insuf­fi­cient empir­i­cal evi­dence to demon­strate a def­i­nite improve­ment in long-term learn­ing reten­tion through the use of edu­ca­tional video games. How­ever, sci­en­tists attribute this more to the fact that video games are still too newly an object of sci­en­tific inquiry for ade­quate long-term stud­ies to have been con­ducted. Many short-term stud­ies have pro­duced pos­i­tive results, with stu­dents respond­ing very favor­ably to the video game for­mat. Chances seem good that video games, once con­sid­ered only an obsta­cle to get­ting home­work done, may take on an impor­tant role in edu­ca­tion in the near future.


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  3. EGR says:

    Video games are great edu­ca­tional tools. They are highly inter­ac­tive and engag­ing which is a great way for kids, stu­dents, and adults to learn. I think the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of games is just the begin­ning of a giant leap in using soft­ware to teach. With tech­nol­ogy advanc­ing so rapidly, its only a mat­ter of time before the class­room is fully engulfed in the dig­i­tal age.

  4. I actu­ally was basi­cally hunt­ing for sug­ges­tions for
    my per­sonal blog and dis­cov­ered your own post­ing, “The Use of
    Edu­ca­tional Video Games in Knowl­edge Reten­tion | 1 to 1
    Schools”, will you care if I apply sev­eral of your own points?

    Many thanks –Kit

  5. Nick Sauers says:

    I’m glad that the post helped. Feel free to apply those points.

    Nick Sauers

  6. Video games are great tools and resources in the world today. Chil­dren of all ages play video games, I am a great sup­porter of adding video games into the edu­ca­tional sys­tem . The only thing I have a con­cern on is how the par­ents of the of the chil­dren will react to hav­ing video games imple­mented into the edu­ca­tional sys­tem, and how will the school board react and or edit which video games are suit­able for being part of curriculum.

  7. Nick Sauers says:


    You bring up some good points. Schools that use video games must take time to inform the board, teach­ers, and com­mu­nity the rea­sons that the games will be use­ful. They will also need to care­fully con­sider which games they use in their schools.


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