Yesterday NPR presented a story on the positive affects of video games.  According to research cited in the story, “video gamers show improved skills in vision, attention and certain aspects of cognition.”  This also has a positive impact on real-world skills involving “attention, speed, accuracy, vision and multitasking.”

I read a book a few years ago that suggests there are other benefits to the design of today’s video games.  In his book Everything Bad is Good for You Steven Johnson suggests that elements of our modern culture are making us smarter.  One example he cites in video games.  Below are some quotes from his book.

Start with the basics: far more than books or movies or music, games enable you to make DECISIONS.  Novels may activate our imagination, and music may conjure up powerful emotions, but games force you to decide, to choose, to prioritize.  All the intellectual benefits of gaming derive from this fundamental virtue, because learning how to think is ultimately about learning to make the right decisions: WEIGHING EVIDENCE, ANALYZING SITUATIONS, CONSULTING YOUR LONG-TERM GOALS, AND THEN DECIDING.
p. 40 (Emphasis mine)

Its not WHAT you’re thinking about when you’re playing a game, it’s THE WAY you’re thinking that matters.
Here’s John Dewey, in his book Experience and Education: ‘Perhaps the greatest of all pedagogical fallacies is the notion that a person learns only that particular thing he is studying at the time.  COLLATERAL THINKING in the way of formation of enduring attitudes, of likes and dislikes, may be and often is much more important than the spelling lesson or lesson in geography or history that is learned.  For these attitudes are fundamentally what count in the future.
p. 41 (Emphasis mine)

“If you stopped playing in the early 90s, or if you only know about games from secondhand accounts, you’d probably assume that the mid-game objectives would sound something like this: Shoot that guy over there! Or: Avoid the blue monsters! Or: Find the magic key!
But interrupt a player in the middle of a Zelda quest, and ask her what her objectives are, and you’ll get a much more interesting answer.  Interesting for two reasons: first, the sheer number of objectives simultaneously at play; and second, the nested, hierarchical way in which those objectives have to be mentally organized.
p. 48-49

What does this mean for learning?  I believe learners will respond more positively to content if they are actively engaged with the content rather than passively receiving the information.  While there is a place for traditional training where the instructor lectures, learners WANT to be challenged.  This is particularly true for millenials, who grew up in the age of video games.  This does not mean organizations need to make a large investment in technology.  It means learning opportunities need to reflect real-world situations where right answers are not always clear.

A popular way to design learning this way is problem based learning.  In this approach learners are presented with a problem that does not have a clear solution or path to a solution.  Learners must work individually or as a team to solve the problem.  As they work towards a solution they must find information that helps them achieve their goal.

Here is a post I wrote on problem based learning.
Here is the Wikipedia page on problem based learning.  It provides links to other sites if you want to learn more.