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Two THEORETICAL AND COGNITIVE PERSPECTIVES: HOW SHOULD WE THINK ABOUT LEARNING IN VIDEO GAMES?

Virtual to Real Life—Assessing Transfer of Learning from Video Games

SUSAN M. BARNETT

In many ways, it seems as if video games should be treated differently from other potential learning experiences that might bring about transfer. They are new and unfamiliar to many, especially older adults; the games rely on technologies that weren’t around a generation ago. Some games have the added cachet of being branded a bad influence on modern youth, and some are said to be so exciting to play that people become addicted to them. All these qualities give video games a mysterious distinction that could tempt an uninformed commentator to jump to the conclusion that our existing understanding of the attributes of and constraints on transfer of learning do not apply here. One might hope that all that has to be done is to dress up some academic content as a game, place it in front of some children, and voila! If video games are so captivating that users can get addicted to them, surely games can be used to teach anything. However, learning is still learning, even if it is wrapped up in electronically assisted and captivating packaging. As has been amply demonstrated elsewhere (see Barnett & Ceci, 2002), the history of research on learning and transfer also suggests that it cannot be taken for granted that learning will transfer, or indeed that any learning will necessarily occur from a given set of experiences. In fact, quite the opposite is often claimed (see, e.g., Detterman, 1993).

 
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