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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Training Transferable Knowledge with Games

  • Author(s): Pilegard, Celeste
  • Advisor(s): Mayer, Richard E
  • et al.

Despite popular enthusiasm for using video games in the classroom, a review of the research reveals a frequent lack of meaningful (i.e., transferable) learning outcomes resulting from video game play (Mayer, 2014). One explanation could be that video game environments are fast and forward-moving, whereas learning that leads to transfer is reflective, effortful, and requires integrating new information with prior knowledge. What can be added to computer games to facilitate transferable learning? In Experiments 1 and 2, participants played a computer game called Cache 17, which has a narrative cover story about finding stolen art as well as instructional information about electromechanical devices. The player’s main goal can be to win (i.e., find the art) rather than to understand the instructional content (i.e., understand how a wet cell battery works). In Experiments 1 and 2, students who filled out worksheets about the devices in Cache 17 during game play outperformed a control group without worksheets on a transfer test, demonstrating that the worksheets helped students focus their limited cognitive resources on the learning material. Experiments 3a and 3b investigated how to train transferable spatial skills with Tetris. Previous research shows that Tetris experts are better than non-experts at mentally rotating Tetris shapes, but nothing else. In Experiment 3a, participants completed a series of lessons and worksheets on Tetris problem-solving with the goal of building a declarative knowledge base to use as a basis for transferable spatial skills. One group completed these lessons and played Tetris and one group played Tetris only. Pre- and post-training tests measured spatial and cognitive skills related to Tetris play. Experiment 3b added an inactive control condition that took the pre- and post-training measures but did not complete any training. The results of Experiments 3a and 3b indicated no benefit of playing Tetris with or without additional training on gains in any spatial or cognitive measure when controlling for pre-training performance. This research helps develop principles for how transferable learning can be facilitated with games.

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