Talking computers should replace teachers

Computer games

Horst Pohlmann and Jürgen Sleegers

What edutainment software promises and what it can deliver

The authors give a systematic overview of the field of edutainment. Their conclusion: Even the best program is not a "knowledge funnel", but an offer that has to be suitable for the user.


The article provides an overview of software that aims to convey knowledge in combination with entertainment. Against the background of common, especially school-based learning contexts, the chances of this computer software are explored - with a view to imparting factual knowledge, understanding, motivation and other characteristics.

The text systematizes its subject area by locating the various 'edutainment' products, depending on their orientation between the poles of strict learning and pure entertainment. The transitions are numerous and smooth.

Above all, the text describes the software on the market itself in great detail. It arranges it according to its central intention (education, simulation, etc.), presents the possible uses and in some cases reports on experiences from its use.

The possibilities of using edutainment software are also outlined - with regard to different educational contexts and according to different objectives.

Edutainment - you don't notice that you are learning

There are different ways to acquire knowledge - to learn. School and the use of books are the most well-known forms, modern media such as television programs (school television) have already found their place in the teaching of learning material. Then there is the multimedia computer, which promises to "play for" learning in an entertaining way "interactively".

Text, image, sound and video should motivate the user to get involved in a topic and to work on it independently. The form of presentation, coupled with the constant requirement of the learner to react to the program, to tell him what it should do, represents a new quality of learning. It is important to note that this is a different quality, that doesn't have to be better or worse - it's just a different medium.

One can take advantage of the fact that the computer itself is a source of motivation for many children and young people. Lured by the play part of many learning programs, a subliminal transfer of knowledge should take place, which does not focus on learning, but on fun. The learner should not notice that he is learning something.

Edutainment is the magic word. The synthesis of "education" and "entertainment" seems to be the solution to many problems on the part of desperate parents and makes it ring in the coffers of the software companies. One question often remains unanswered: Who are the products aimed at?

If you look at the game packaging or the advertising, you can see that it is primarily parents and educators who are addressed here. You should be encouraged to leave the shop with a good feeling and a reassured conscience, with a somewhat lighter wallet and a new educational game. They know from experience that they do not need to persuade their children to play on the computer. The prospect of games, fun and excitement is enough motivation. "Edutainment" is exactly what they need to get children to learn. Because here they can sell their children learning as a game.

The product range extends from a multimedia "new edition" of conventional school textbooks for teaching knowledge in schools to games, the solution of which requires general knowledge. The boundaries are fluid and the emphasis on learning and fun differs from product to product. If the market for game and learning software is divided according to the proportion of learning content, it can be divided into three areas:

The term "Education" can be used to summarize the programs that have a high proportion of learning. This includes school-related learning software that is clearly dedicated to imparting school and factual knowledge.

If you follow the line in the direction of edutainment, the still very low proportion of play increases steadily. At Infosoft or Simsoft, the focus is still on conveying knowledge, but the design is usually more "playful". The development of the areas of knowledge z. B. in lexicons is done at the discretion of the user. He is not tied to linear guidelines, but can follow so-called hyperlinks according to his own interests and move from topic to topic. The multimedia lexicon can convey knowledge differently, because in addition to texts and images, films, moving graphics, sound and language expand the repertoire of conventional lexicons. Knowledge becomes "more tangible".

The area with the apparently lowest learning shares, but the largest market shares and product facets, is that of "entertainment" products. The spectrum ranges from Beat 'm Up games, in which the player can learn how to react quickly in controlling his character, to "adventure" games, in which puzzles can only be solved through logical thinking and combinations, to complex ones "Strategy" and "simulation" games in which strategic, tactical and networked thinking are challenged and encouraged.

The so-called edutainment programs cavort between the areas of "education" and "entertainment". The principle on which these products are based is to combine the advantages of playing, namely providing motivation on the part of the user, with conveying learning content. If we take a closer look at the diagram, the "Edutainment" area can be further subdivided. Here, too, the learning components are weighted differently:
  • "Teachtainment" includes learning programs that specifically convey school-related knowledge, but garnish this with a little play in order to make learning more attractive to unmotivated students.
  • The products in which knowledge can be acquired, discovered or developed in a playful way can be assigned to the "Infotainment" area.
  • The term "learning game" encompasses all those programs in which the users can forget or do not notice the learning because of the high proportion of the game.
  • "Simtainment" is software that displays extracts from reality in a playable computer simulation.
  • "I / O devices" (input and output devices) expand the pure use of software and computers by real reference through "external hardware".
  • Tools, with the help of which the user can playfully develop the path to digital image, music or video editing, can be summarized under the term "tooltainment".
In general, the secret of a successful edutainment product lies in the balance between play and learning. On the one hand, the play component should not predominate and the learning component should only be mentioned in passing or even click away; on the other hand, the learning component should not be so dominant that it interrupts the flow of the game. Not all edutainment titles manage this tightrope walk. In the following we present some examples of the various edutainment areas.


Tim7 - Math, 3rd grade

The player slips into the role of the boy Tim7 and finds himself on an island after a short introductory story. The aim is to regain your lost memory. For this purpose, all venues must be visited, where information and learning content are conveyed, which then have to be worked on in appropriate exercises. Only when all the exercises have been completed can the story be brought to its end.

You can switch between the individual thematically structured mathematics areas at any time. It is therefore not necessary to solve an entire chapter in one go.

In addition to this learning adventure part, there is an exercise part in which arithmetic exercises can be done independently of the adventure plot, as well as a teaching part that imparts knowledge on different topics. A statistics overview provides information about the percentage of exercises that have been answered so far, so that you can see how much work is still required to master the program.

The software is tailored to the school curricula so that, for example, B. the subject matter of the 3rd grade can be practiced. From the same series, up to grade 6, there are versions available for the subjects German, mathematics and English.

Orientation towards the curriculum and the manufacturer's statement that the program is 80% learning and 20% fun already shows that it is a learning program. The way in which knowledge is conveyed and the embedding of the exercises in a playful context is certainly more motivating than dry calculation of textbook exercises. However, it is questionable whether 20% fun is enough to get children to grapple with mathematics as a school subject in the long term.

In tests with children, we were able to determine that the numerous math problems are too reminiscent of school lessons and that motivation did not really arise. With learning programs of this kind, parents and children alike need to be aware that it is about learning. If children deal with the program in order to learn, so they know exactly that it is not about fun and games, the concept can work, because then the animations and the solving of a game story are sufficient as motivation. But parents who have touted the fun of a learning adventure for their children are more likely to have frustrating experiences. Most children now know too many computer games for that and know too well how to differentiate between work and play.

Addy Teens - English Grade 8

The Addy learning series provides a complete learning environment that can serve as the basis for several learning modules. In this way, the manufacturer's different products for different school subjects can be integrated into this learning environment. The user controls his electronic proxy through the various rooms of the space station. In the room of our extraterrestrial companion Addy, who leads through the program, information on general learning topics such as science, music, geography or history is available in the form of multimedia elements that you can look at or in which you can act.

A lavish selection of different topics is covered here that are waiting to be discovered. In addition, this is the starting point for some computer games, which can only be selected once a certain number of points has been achieved in Addy's learning part. In the children's room, which you can set up yourself, there is space for awards, objects, your own notes or creative drawings.

This basic equipment from Addy is supplemented with a software package, in this case English for the 8th grade. This extension is now all about English. A learning part introduces individual grammatical subject areas, where theory is conveyed in the form of learning texts that can then be practiced. The learner can choose between "free learning", in which he has to control the selection of exercises himself, or "guided learning", in which Addy takes him by the hand and controls the exercises one after the other.

The exercises start relatively easily and increase in difficulty and complexity. If too few correct answers are given, the program suggests that it is better to go back to the theory. Once the exercises have been mastered, an interactive adventure story continues: there is a reward for the effort.

The learning part is supplemented by a practice center in which the knowledge learned can be deepened. It's not dry here, it's playful: in a memory game, for example, English job titles have to be combined with corresponding pictures of the jobs, so a kind of playful vocabulary learning. So that it is not just about reading and listening to the foreign language, the space station is equipped with a language laboratory in which the English student has to pick up the microphone to e.g. B. asking the right questions in a virtual television studio. The opportunity to tap into the language is well presented and varied.

In a research room, the space station is supplemented with a dictionary for looking up and listening to vocabulary, with a media corner for viewing the instructional videos, images or information integrated in the program, as well as a library. Here, teaching texts can be selected directly if, for example, specific information is required on a specific grammar topic.

In order to further expand the learning environment on the home computer, direct links to the Internet are available. Components of this online platform are complete lessons in the virtual classroom, forum or chat, where you can communicate with other students; thematic clubs and reports are also available.

With this abundance of possibilities, the question arises why children shouldn't "beam" themselves into Addy's learning world after school instead of doing their homework. The space station provides motivation and variety, its individual learning modules are well thought out and can ensure that children deal more intensively with a school subject than if they only learn with the textbook. A learning universe in which all possible subjects have their place and which serves as the sole multimedia support for learning is an interesting idea. However, there is also the risk that children, who do not feel addressed by the character of Addy or the basic design of the learning environment, will not just ignore one learning program, but rather a whole series of learning programs.