Learning Disabilities and Video Games

Children with learning disabilities are some of the major beneficiaries of digital tools for learning. Engaging games and apps promote increased opportunities for learning and continued practice. Many kids with learning disabilities require repetition in order to transform learning opportunities into crystallized knowledge. Parents and teachers readily observe that struggling learners are willing to spend more time practicing academic skills on a digital device than in paper-and-pencil workbooks.

Technology can provide audio and visual stimulation that may otherwise be difficult to generate in a non-digital device. Children learn through video games without the normal resistance that occurs with many traditional educational approaches. There has been recent promising research that supports the use of video games as part of the Response to Intervention (RTI) process to provide additional assistance to students who require tiered supports. However, some studies suggest that games are not enough to maintain the engagement of struggling learners, and there are legitimate concerns that many children and adolescents with learning disabilities use video games to excess.

To learn more about this important topic, check out these straightforward and scholarly articles that reflect the current state of the science. You can also link to our complete bibliography on the science of games and learning or go to the Center for Media and Child Health Research base for more extensive information.

Durkin, K., Boyle, J., Hunter, S., Conti-Ramsden, G. (2015). Video games for children and adolescents with special education needs. Zeitschrift für Psychologie, 221, 79-89.

This literature review focuses on gathering information on whether effective learning video games for typically-developing children also are effective for children with special education needs. The authors address the implications of development on game play, the potential for the games to focus on special cognitive needs, and social potential in game play.

Griffiths, M. (2002). The educational benefits of videogames. Education and Health, 20(3), 47-51.

Griffiths presents positive outcomes associated with playing video games. At the time the article was written, parents and teachers were concerned about the negative effects of video-game play (e.g., violent behavior). In contrast, Griffiths argues in favor of game play to improve educational settings.  

Marino, M.T. & Beecher, C.C. (2010). Conceptualizing RTI in the 21st century secondary science classrooms: Video games’ potential to provide tiered support and progress monitoring for students with learning disabilities. Learning Disability Quarterly, 33(4), 299-311.

The authors provide a conceptual framework for a video-game enhanced Response to Intervention (RTI) system for secondary level students. The model provides game-based instructional tools for universal, targeted, and intensive supports, as well as suggestions for tracking student progress through data gathered at each instructional level.

Marino, M.T., Gotch, C. M., Israel, M., Vasquez, E., Basham, J. D., & Becht, K. (2014). UDL in the middle school science classroom: Can video games and alternative text heighten engagement and learning for students with learning disabilities? Learning Disability Quarterly, 37(2), 87-99.

This article empirically examines learning outcomes among 57 students with learning disabilities in inclusion classrooms across 4 middle schools using traditional curricular materials and materials supplemented with video-game play and alternative text. The authors supplemented traditional materials to align more closely with the Universal Design for Learning Guidelines (UDL; Rose, Meyer & Hitchcock, 2005). While at the conclusion of the study students in the UDL-aligned groups did not receive significantly higher scores than those in the control group, they did report increased levels of engagement.

Ronimus, M., Kujala, J., Tolvanen, A., & Lyytinen, H. (2014). Children’s engagement during digital game-based learning of reading: The effects of time, rewards, and challenge. Computers & Education, 71, 237-246.

This article examines the effects of challenge and reward on the engagement of second grade students  in digital-game based reading. While the level of challenge did not significantly influence student engagement, the reward system temporarily increased students’ length of game play at the start of the training session. Further inquiries in this area are needed to determine how to increase engagement until the goals of learning have been accomplished.



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