Games for a Digital Age, Part 4

In January 2013 the Joan Ganz Cooney Center released the report Games for a Digital Age: K-12 Market Map and Investment Analysis by John Richards, Leslie Stebbins and Kurt Moellering. The report features a sector analysis and market map of game‐based learning initiatives with an analysis of relevant trends in education and digital technology that are likely to impact development of a robust game-based learning market segment.

With permission from the Cooney Center, AEP is republishing key excerpts from the report. Our goal is to create a common language surrounding discussions of educational technology and to help ensure that digital learning providers develop an understanding of the unique challenges and opportunities in the K-12 market. In the section on investing in education technology the authors discuss the potential for learning games in schools and their key recommendations for investors.

Moving Forward – Investment in Education Technology


The single most important thing investors can do to move learning games successfully into the K-12 space is to keep in mind how a game will be used in the classroom setting. It is crucial when approaching the institutional market to clearly communicate the type of game being sold, as well as the curriculum area and grade range. Many administrators and teachers confuse shortform and long-form games depending on what experiences they have had. This confusion could impact the success of selling learning games to schools.

Investors should support collections of short-form games that maximize teacher flexibility and are aligned to standards.

Collections of short-form games can be particularly attractive to schools because they have the ability to fit well into the current K-12 classroom structure and are easier to align to standards. Product lines composed of collections of short-form games and other materials are starting to experience success in the institutional market. These types of games also have the potential to be embedded in personalized learning environments or to be leveraged by adaptive engines that combine instruction with the use of data and feedback loops that are becoming increasingly popular in schools.

Short-form games provide tools for practice and focused concepts and fit easily into the classroom. While most lack the depth and research base of long-form games, it appears they are gaining traction in the classroom. Unfortunately, for particular types of skill development, they have a useful though somewhat limited role to play.

Investors should support long-form games that are affiliated with education reform initiatives; particularly those initiatives that re-imagine the school day in ways that promote in depth study, longer class periods, open ended projects, and critical thinking skills.

Long-form games come from stronger research terrain and are focused on higher order thinking skills. As we have demonstrated above, these games are starting to receive more attention and support. To the degree that classrooms shift from a hyperfocus on high stakes testing and free up the structure of the learning day to aid in fostering 21st century skills, long-form games will have a place in the classroom. Until those changes occur, long form games that manage to enter the institutional space will need to bend to fit the existing space,  rather than expect that the classroom will naturally shift to embrace the requirements of long-form games.

However, the National Education Technology Plan (NETP, 2010), Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology, offers investors in learning games hope. NETP calls for applying the advanced technologies that are used in everyday life to the education system in order to foster more effective teaching and learning, to scale up effective practices, and to use data to improve student learning. The model of learning described in the plan focuses on personalized learning experiences and on linking what is taught to what students need to learn. It calls for the use of state-of-the-art technologies, for “Universal Design for Learning,” and for using the affordances of technology to support continuous and lifelong learning.

Of particular relevance for learning games, NETP calls for fundamental changes in the structure of the school day, including longer and more school days, access to learning online, flexibility in schedules, and a reduction in the use of “seat time” to determine student advancement. In addition, the plan focuses on using social interactions and collaborative activities to spur learning, using technology to improve content such as virtual online environments and games, and using data to inform and improve instruction (Devaney, 2011).

Making games work in the classroom requires an understanding not only of issues specific to learning games, but also of the systemic barriers to entry and constraints of the K-12 environment for any supplemental product in the K-12 space. The dominance of a few entrenched players, the long buying cycle, the multi-layered decision making process, the fragmented marketplace, the demand for curriculum alignment, the requirement of a research base, and the need for professional development all will impact any product trying to make its way into the institutional market. Therefore, it is incumbent upon game developers to consider how their product meets the goals of teachers and students, how it will be flexible and adaptable enough to fit into the school day, and how it can be used easily.

Read the complete report for a more detailed discussion of the optimism surrounding the educational game market.

Richards, J., Stebbins, L., & Moellering, K. (2013). Games for a Digital Age: K-12 Market Map and Investment Analysis. New York: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.

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