Using Gambling To Improve Focus and Excitement In Classroom

Games have been used in teaching for a long time, especially when it comes to children at a young age. But the idea of gambling games in the classroom seems a bit too much for many. Not for Paul Howard-Jones, Professor of neuroscience and education at the University of Bristol, though. He thinks the majority – if not all – the lessons should be taught using computer gambling games, like the ones you can find at

Professor Howard-Jones has studied the effects of a gambling-based rewards system on the brains of 24 postgraduate students, using state of the art brain imaging technology. The participants were divided into teams of three, competing against each other for the points awarded for each correct answer. Whenever they gave a correct answer, the teams have not only received the points for it, but spun a Wheel of Fortune, giving them a 50-50 chance to double or lose their points.

Using Gambling To Improve Focus and Excitement In Classroom

The findings resulted from the tests were interesting. During the game, the areas of the students’ brains indicating distraction or inattention were hardly active. In contrast, the game generated dopamine responses in their brain – the kind associated with “visceral” pleasures, like good food – because of its level of risk and reward.

The study at this level was small-scale, with only 24 participants, but it will be extended to more students and pupils from different age groups this year. Funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation, the study is part of a larger programme to discover new ways in which neuroscience can improve education. The next step will see the study rolled out to several classrooms across the United States, with over 10,000 year 8 pupils learning science using Professor Howard-Jones’ wheel of fortune game.

“It may work better with school pupils than university students,” Professor Howard-Jones said. “The evidence is that the reward-system response for risky decisions peaks at around 13 or 14. That may be why pupils that age are particularly addicted to video games.” The informal tests he carried out with a small number of pupils has proven to be a resounding success. “To see children actually screaming with pleasure and excitement when tackling educational tasks is great,” he said.

Asked about the future of his learning method, Professor Howard-Jones was optimistic. “I do think that, at some point in the future, a great deal of learning will be delivered this way,” he said. “Games in the classroom are sometimes trivialised – they’re just about making learning fun. But I think that trivialises their serious potential. We’re really missing a trick, if we don’t take it seriously. Learning can feel like you’re riding a rollercoaster.”

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