Game Based Learning: Level Up For Neurodivergent Learners

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Brief Abstract

Neurodivergent students face barriers with standardized learning but thrive in a multimodal learning environment that lets them focus. Game Based Learning (GBL) uses games to convey instructional material engagingly. In this talk we will discuss methods for using GBL to ‘level up’ the learning experience for neurodiverse learners.

Extended Abstract

Despite progress in accessibility policies in post-secondary institutions, neurodivergent students still graduate at a significantly lower rate than neurotypical students. The access strategies at many academic institutions use individual learning plans for neurodivergent students. These programs sometimes have additional costs or separate those students from their peers into an isolated program.

Alternatively, universities have access services offices which are meant to give accommodations for students with disabilities. Although helpful for many students, the accommodations proposed to neurodivergent students are often limited, and do not address students' needs for control of their learning environment. While extensions and no absence penalties are helpful for many students, the diverse spectrum of neurodiversity means that these standard accommodations do not cover many of the barriers experienced by students.

Some of the barriers faced by neurodivergent learners include memory retention, comprehension, anxiety, and organization. These barriers can result in attitudinal biases from instructors and peers. Unfortunately, many individuals still perceive neurodivergence from a ‘deficit’ model - something that needs to be fixed or is lacking - rather than the more appropriate ‘difference’ model. Instructors with attitudinal biases may assume that neurodivergent students cannot learn as well as their peers. In reality, neurodivergent students face barriers with standardized learning, but can thrive in a learning environment that they control. Additionally, instructors significantly underestimate the needs of neurodiverse students, particularly as these disabilities are often not visible.

Instructors in post-secondary are already overwhelmed with the amount of responsibilities on their shoulders. For this reason, many do not feel they have the capacity to deviate from standardized pedagogical methods. It is additionally not the responsibility of all instructors to know the experiences of neurodivergent learners inside and out. Creating individualized learning environments for several students is a lot of effort to ask of already overloaded instructors.

This is where game based learning (GBL) can offer a solution for learners and instructors alike. GBL uses games to convey instructional material in an engaging format. For students with neurodiversity, GBL can be a more effective way to reach their academic goals. Games provide an adjustable learning environment where neurodivergent students can set parameters for their needs in regard to stimulation, pacing, and frequency. In addition, games are multimodal communication tools. They include music, speech, visuals, storytelling, and reward systems. A multimodal learning environment can allow neurodivergent students to focus on the way they learn best. It has also been shown that narrative communication of information can help with memory retention and information salience. For the instructor’s benefit, GBL can serve as a transition tool if the game is a short interaction. The game can be used prior to class to orient neurodivergent students to the classroom environment and provide a consistent opener to class. Further, the students’ actions in the game can serve as an alternative form of communication which may be more effective in demonstrating the students’ learning than a traditional exam. In this talk we will explore a variety of GBL options available to instructors. We will showcase some of the unique accessibility features and discuss methods for using GBL to ‘level up’ the learning experience for neurodiverse learners.