How to make games that are fun to play, prove a learning outcome and make good business? This was discussed at the Games for Learning event jointly organized by Finnish and American partners in March.
The event was held at Electronic Arts in Silicon Valley, where the speakers included Peter Vesterbacka from Rovio, researchers John Murray and Jarmo Viteli from SRI, Harri Ketamo from SkillPixels, and Jessica Lindl from GlassLab. Along with speeches, the afternoon also provided a panel discussion with input from investors, teachers and game developers.
Peter Vesterbacka opened the event with a message that gamification makes learning fun. "Why do Finnish boys speak better English than Finnish girls? Because they play games! They learn English while having fun."
In line with the Learning is Fun philosophy, Rovio has increased its edutech competence over the past few years. Although the main target group is children who are under school age, the offering for schoolchildren has expanded, for example, as a result of Angry Birds schools that already operate on two continents: Asia and South America.
"After food, the learning game market is the largest single consumer market in terms of potential. Of course, we want to be a part of it," explained Vesterbacka.
Harri Ketamo, founder of SkillPixels, represented the start-up scene and expanded on the world of learning game. Now a math game, SkillPixels plans to expand into natural science and language teaching in the near future.
"SkillPixels wants to become a virtual school. Our strength lies in utilising and managing artificial intelligence and strong pedagogical competence. To date, the edutech markets have been mainly expectation value, but they now seem to be gradually opening up. Interest towards the industry is growing, which can be seen in the form of investments and greater interest in edutech start-up financing."
Topics covered by the afternoon panel included the challenges associated with growth. Michael Staton from Learn Capital emphasised the size of the market, but admitted that, generally speaking, there is room for improvement in the level of learning games: "Make better games! This is the challenge – not the school institution or administration."
Emily Dahm, a teacher at the Alt School founded by former Google employees, provided a teacher's perspective reminding participants that a good learning game can be any game that supports thinking. "I use all kinds of learning games in the classroom. They do not have to be video games. There are also some existing video games, like Minecraft, that can be used in a learning context. Anything that makes the kids think is valuable."
The Games for Learning event attracted a full house of more than 50 industry professionals for lively networking. The event was hosted by Suvi Sundquist, from Tekes Learning Solutions programme.
The notes from the event were drawn, not written.
Text: Hanna Artman