A New Excuse for Playing Video Games?

Imagine if video games were a key to improving learning. Yale psychiatry professor Bruce Wexler believes they are. A study found that a video game-based learning regimen improved the test performance of 583 schoolchildren compared to both those without the regimen and those with one-on-one tutoring. This result shows the efficacy of the program developed by Wexler, called Activate. The curriculum includes computer games aimed at cognitive improvement, and a five-minute warm-up computer activity designed to prepare students for learning.

The Activate program harnesses neuroplasticity. The structure of the brain is shaped after birth from environmental stimuli that reorganize neuronal connections. Activate stimulates areas of the brain often underdeveloped in children who grow up in poverty or have neurodevelopmental problems like ADHD. To accomplish this, Wexler used neuroimaging studies to identify the regions of the brain corresponding to certain cognitive tasks. This can help students with unrealized potential, providing them with stimuli to improve attentiveness, memory, self-control, and other skills. Wexler describes Activate as “a school lunch program for the brain” customized to each individual student.

The social implications of this educational strategy are vast. First, Activate has the potential to close the achievement gap by helping students with different educational backgrounds. As a technology-based tool, it is cheaper than many current solutions. Wexler’s research is also an effective treatment for depression and, in some cases, ADHD.

Going forward, C8 Sciences, a Yale start-up dedicated to spreading Activate, hopes to increase awareness and continue improving the program. Activate has been translated into multiple languages, and appears primed to expand.

A student using Activate, a game- based learning program shown to improve test performance, in her school’s computer lab. Image courtesy of Bruce Wexler.