Learning to Learn

Scholarly Critique of Bavelier, at. Al. (2012). Brain Plasticity Through the Life Span: Learning to Learn and Action Video Games. Annual Review of Neuroscience, vol. 35, pp. 319-416

Scholarly Critique #2

Why this study?

My interests are primarily in the field of cognitive science for education and adult learning. I chose this article because it was written from the perspective of neuroscience and learning and particularly, it explains learning in the context of playing games through the lenses of brain plasticity and stimuli.

How was learning conceptualized?

Learning is conceptualized by Bavelier, D. at al. as acquiring of new skills and altering excising behaviors given appropriate stimuli, context, and task. Stating that learning emerges from or is a result of these specific factors derives from research in subfields of neuroscience focused on learning such as motor learning, expertise, or memory, according to Bavelier at all (2012). Evidences for providing relationship between games and learning derive from the review of variety of tasks such as: musical training, working memory training, mind-body training. Reviewing these tasks on which performance is enhanced as a result of playing action video games is the first evidence for addressing the relationship between learning and games. Further, the possibility that video games teach the capacity to quickly learn to perform task or the capability of “learning to learn”.

What tools/concepts contribute to game play, and how do tools contribute to either individual or collective learning?

This peered review article deals with video games in general and the research is focused on the common tools and elements of video games, yet not one particular game. Individual learning is promoted through several tools that are common for most action video games. Such tools are random dot kinematograms, visual and auditory tasks requiring high reaction time and speed accuracy, drop-down attention control for selective attention, and visual search task tools. These tools contributed in higher levels of accuracy in action video game players, especially in special and temporal resolution of vision. Action video game players had developed crowding acuity or the capacity to resolve small details in a cluttered context. Other individual learning occurred in improving cognitive functions such as increased visual short-term memory, special cognition and multi-tasking. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this study is the research on benefits in decision-making when comparing action video game players to non-players. The measure of performance was based on the outcome of determining whether the main flow of motion within a random dot kinematogram was to the left or right. A random dot kinematogram is simply a dense pattern of random black-and-white dots that is displaced coherently in one direction and the observer is asked to report on the perceived direction (Mather, 2013)In this particular study, the pattern was used to provide a measure of how participants accumulate information over time in terms of decision making processes. The result of the study indicated that video game players displayed enhanced rate of accumulating information compared to non-game players.

How might you redesign an aspect of this game (or game-like experience) to foster different learning experiences?

To broaden this question a little, I will address how aspects of playing video games in general foster learning experiences. Video games, according to the study are designed based on common computational principle: players have to make a decision based on limited amount of distorted or as Bavelier at al. calls “noisy” data. Making decisions in such settings, in terms of video games logic and design, are known as performing under probability inference or as explained by the authors: computing the probability that each choice is correct given the evidence presented in the current setting. Thus learning experiences are fostered by improving the precision of probabilistic inference. Think about Grand Theft Auto 5 and the in mission switch of character to improve the outcome of the mission.

Fostering learning experiences is also embedded in the transferability of targeting decision making skills during video game playing experiences. A practical relevance is expressed by the authors in the illustration of the Royal Air Force recruits of young games to pilot drones from example. Another transferability element of playing video games, illustrated in the study is the outperformance of laparoscoping surgeons executing surgery procedure faster and as accurately compared to non players.

What questions about games, play, and learning do you have after reading this article or study?

Some further questions that I would like read more are in terms of addressing the relationship between social dimensions and narratives of the action video games and how if at all such factor affected and influenced performance of certain tasks or if such factors were irrelevant for this research.


Bavelier, at. Al. (2012). Brain Plasticity Through the Life Span: Learning to Learn and Action Video Games. Annual Review of Neuroscience, vol. 35, pp. 319-416

Mather, G. (2013). Random Dot Kinematogram (RDK) Obtained from: http://www.georgemather.com/MotionDemos/RDKQT.html