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Terry: Video Games Could Actually Motivate Students

kids playing tablet
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kids playing tablet

If you have a teenage son, chances are you’ve wished he’d work half as diligently at his school studies as he does at “Call of Duty” or “World of Warcraft” .

But fear not: the gaming skill set so keenly honed in your basement is increasingly being used in both the classroom and the workplace to teach everything from mathematics to customer relations practices to active collaboration skills.

“Gamification,” as it’s being called, is the use of the techniques and technologies from video and online gaming in real-life educational and training settings. It turns out that many of the elements that make gaming so intensively attractive to so many young people are actually very useful in motivating those same youngsters to work harder and longer on scholastic and skills-based pursuits.

Both the non-profit and for-profit worlds have jumped on the gamification bandwagon. The MacArthur Foundation – the “genius grant” people – have been funding a major initiative through the non-profit Mozilla Foundation to try to develop an open-source “digital badging” platform that would allow students to collect online markers of accomplishment and mastery and display them to others (like college admissions directors) as an Internet resume equivalent. The web teems with presentations and discussions of how teachers can put engaging digital game elements in place in their daily class routines in science and social studies, and organizations like Games for Change use the technology to further understanding of various humanitarian causes among school groups. (Read More:Kiddie Tablets and Other Tech Toys Top Insider Gift List)

Does gamification work, or is it a compromise of the disciplines that have traditionally been required for educational success? There’s no clear answer – at least not yet. Experts say that gamification can definitely be helpful for certain kinds of learning applications when the motivation of the student or trainee is in question. There’s also a general consensus that certain kinds of learning styles benefit most from interactivity, suggesting gamification has at least a role in the educational landscape. But other experts are less certain of the broad benefits of the technology (though it’s worth noting that the same was said about the initial advent of computers in the classroom.) It’s safe to say that if the world’s economic activity is increasingly fueled by the internet and social media interaction, helping kids translate those skills to real-life applications can only help, and game dynamics are likely to find increasingly widespread use. (Read More: With Training Tablets for Kids Surging, Safe Apps Are a Must)

Companies seeking to build the technologies and systems that allow educators and corporate trainers to employ gamification are finding plenty of love in the venture capital world. With M2 Research pegging the gamification market at $2.8 billion annually by 2016, early stage investors have recently lavished $40 million on Badgeville, which focuses on business gaming applications, $8 million on Top Hat Monocle, which seeks to link smart phones, tablets and laptops into a unified classroom learning platform, and $20 million on SessionM, which creates loyalty games for content publishers. (Read More: Bad Piggies Fly to Top of Apple App Store)

Other notable companies in the sector include Wowzers and Dreambox, which make math games for elementary school kids, Smartyants, which focuses on reading skills for the same market, and Skoolbo, which focuses on both.

There have not been any flashy, high-dollar Zynga -style acquisitions in the gamification world – yet. With no one having achieved scale in the business, investors aren’t likely to be ready to consider selling a company now, and it’s also not immediately clear who might seek to dominate the space. Social web blog Gigaom recently carried a prediction that gamification companies could grow hot in the M&A world over the next 12–24 months, but that’s a lifetime in the technology deal world.

Meanwhile, the powerful combination of budget limitations for public education and free-flowing private capital for companies in the sector probably means that gamification is coming soon to a school near you. If the preliminary interest in the space is any indication, it might be worth sending your kid back to the basement for some extra practice.

Sector Watch - Video Game Universe

  • Activision, Inc
  • Electronic Arts, Inc
  • Google
  • Apple
  • Zynga
  • THQ, Inc
  • Take Two Interactive Software, Inc.
  • Sony Corp.
  • Nintendo Corp.
  • Gamestop Corp.

Shawn D. Terry is the Founder and Managing Director of MHT Partners, LP, a Dallas-based investment bank serving middle market clients. He has an MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University and graduated from Southern Methodist University with a BBA in Finance and a BA in Political Science.

CNBC and YPO (Young Presidents’ Organization) have formed an exclusive editorial partnership, consisting of regional “Chief Executive Networks” in the Americas, EMEA and Asia-Pacific. These “Chief Executives Networks” are made up of a sample of YPO’s unrivaled global network of 20,000 top executives from 120 countries who are on the frontlines of the economy. The opinions of “Chief Executive Network” members are solely their own and do not reflect the opinions of YPO as a whole or CNBC.

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