Analyzing a Rising Sector

In 2011, E-Line Media and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop united efforts to launch an initiative called the Games and Learning Publishing Council. The goal of the Council is to catalyze innovation and investment in research and curriculum-based digital games by developing a new type of educational, impact publisher devoted to creating meaningful, measurable learning impact and building a profitable and scalable business. The initiative uniquely leverages the game development and business creation expertise of E-Line Media with the policy leadership and industry convening expertise of the Cooney Center.

With the increased interest in games for learning, philanthropic organizations, government agencies and academic institutions are now investing significant funds and intellectual resources in promising game-based-learning research and development efforts. Unfortunately, very few of these initiatives have successfully crossed over from small scale innovations to sustainable products or scalable models in either formal or informal learning markets. As a result, private sector investors have been reluctant to help capitalize the sector. This has resulted in a funding gap that is constraining the growth of a new ecosystem of game-based learning products and services.

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The Games and Learning Publishing Council aims to understand the market dynamics and areas of innovation that are ready for scaling within the game-based education field. The Council, which is made up of a multi-sector leadership group of industry, research, philanthropic, policy and practice leaders, develops analytical tools, convenes experts and disseminates periodic reports to help raise the sector. Our work to advance games-based learning will also include multiple policy briefs and conference proceedings, all of which will be published on a new dedicated website that will be launching this summer. The new information service aims to help developers create effective and entertaining games by helping them understand the latest research in learning, game design and emerging platforms. The site also aims to help foundations, universities and venture capitalists make more effective investments in future projects by demonstrating what works and what doesn’t when it comes to both the development of educational games and the marketing of those games to schools, parents and others.

To see major activities of the Council’s first year, click here.

The Engagement Challenge

One of the key drivers of E-Line’s vision is to address the increasing lack of engagement with youth in school. School dropout rates across the country have reached epidemic proportions, and America is falling behind our competitor nations on math, science and literacy scores. As a result, the nation’s prominence in commerce, industry, science and technological innovation faces a very real threat. Underlying this crisis are the following statistics:

  • 7,000 students drop out of school every day (more than 1 million every year)
  • 1/3 of public high school students fail to graduate
  • 1/2 of African Americans, Native Americans and Hispanic high school students fail to graduate

While there is no single cause driving student dropout, one overarching factor is the lack of motivation and relevance most adolescents report in assessing their school environments. In a 2006 study conducted for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 69% of students said they were not motivated or inspired in school. They expressed feelings of being disconnected and bored, and doubted the real-world relevance of their classes. The economic and social impact of this problem is massive in terms of unemployment, public assistance and public health. A lack of education also has direct results on the stability of the nation and the potential for communities to thrive. As evidence, nearly 50% of African-American males who drop out of school end up in prison.

Game-based learning has emerged as one of the most promising areas of innovation in making academic content more engaging and relevant for America’s youth, and in promoting the types of skills demanded by growing numbers of employers. A recent white paper by the New Media Institute outlines the value of such learning. According to its author: “Harness the power of well-designed games to achieve specific learning goals, and the result is a workforce of highly motivated learners who avidly engage with and practice applying problem-solving skills.” Indeed, computer and video games have shown promise in promoting inquiry, literacy, creativity, collaboration, problem solving and system design skills needed to learn standards-based content, develop an understanding of STEM concepts, and build critical skills that are essential for preparing youth for successful high school completion, college success and, eventually, 21st century careers.

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Kids in Columbia, MD, helping each other learn with Gamestar Mechanic.