When we talk about “games,” that term covers a huge range. From video games to board games, from Kinect to pencil-and-paper games, all of these can contribute to student learning. There are many reasons why games can and do teach, but interestingly, they actually access the multiple learning styles we already know about.
This is probably the most obvious way in which games align to a learning style. Digital games leverage visuals as integral to the process. However, it’s not just about the polish and creative artwork of a game. Games use visuals to create problems that players want to solve. These visuals give clues toward the solutions. The visual learner playing Portal, for example, must use visual-spatial learning to effectively navigate the game. Players are interacting with the visuals of the game. Instead of simply showing passive visuals, games immerse the learner in a visual experience.
Some games get us physically moving, either through whole bodies or “hands-on” experience. The Kinect is prime example of games that require a lot of kinesthetic experience. There are also some physical games that don’t require a video game system, and even these help to engage kinesthetic learners in the learning process.
Some digital games have voice-overs and audio directions, but even more old school, when we play games together, we often coach each other or give pointers. For example, when I was playing the game Pandemic with my family and friends, I was required to collaborate by talking with other players. I collaborated to learn the instructions and also to strategize with my team to win the game. Now, while this game may not be considered a serious game that teaches content, it does teach collaboration, a critical 21st century skill. In addition, digital games have sounds, music and other auditory elements that give hints and clues for players to incorporate while playing. Consider having students collaborate to learn and play other educational games, as well as analyze other auditory components of games.
Some consider this to be a learning style as well. When students play World of Warcraft, they are constantly reading and writing: reading engaging stories of characters and quest directions; typing strategies for raids and writing background stories for characters. Most games include reading as a critical learning modality to be successful, but many games also leverage writing for communication or even answer purposes. Games can engage the read/write learner.
Now, not every game accesses all of the learning styles concurrently or evenly, but many games can access more than one.