Analysis: one way of equipping young people with the necessary digital skills for the future is through digital games like Minecraft

By Deirdre Butler and Éadaoin Slattery, DCU

Work is changing at a rapid rate. Up to 40% of the workforce will need to change occupations or advance their skills by 2030, according to global management consulting company, McKinsey, This change will be driven by technology, particularly automation and artificial intelligence.

So how can our education system prepare students to be successful in this future world? One solution is for students to develop a broader skill set and the ability to adapt to different technologies. As 76% of young people play digital games, educators are increasingly turning towards digital games to achieve this.

Attention on the use of digital games for learning increased during the pandemic as it became an effective way to support remote learning. Play has long been regarded as one of the best ways to learn and the majority of young people are already playing digital games at home.

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From RTÉ News, how Rossmore Castle in Co Monaghan was brought back to life via Minecraft

But not all digital games have the same impact on learning and some are better for learning than others. Minecraft is one digital game that can be used to support a range of educational needs and experiences. It's one of the bestselling games of all time with over 200 million copies sold.

The game is a sandbox game, which means it provides players with a great degree of freedom and creativity, as there are no predetermined goals. Players use blocks to create 3D structures. Other elements of the game include interacting with other players, mining materials, completing challenges, hunting for items and exploring worlds. Its popularity, as well as its flexibility in terms of game design and play, led to a surge in use of Minecraft for educational purposes.

In 2014, Minecraft: Education Edition, a special purpose game-based learning platform designed for use in the classroom, was released. This version has many additional features that make Minecraft beneficial and easy to use in an educational setting. The platform contains lessons for different subjects, which teachers can use to supplement the curriculum.

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From Microsoft Education, how 10 to 12 years old in Bruffy National School, Co Mayo have used Minecraft in their classroom

For example, the Active Citizen lesson teaches students about Nobel Peace Prize laureates. A particularly good feature of the Education Edition is the 'Code Builder', which allows students to write programming code in a code editor to create and control features within the game. The versatile nature of the platform allows educators to modify the game to suit their own needs and customise their students’ learning experiences.

In addition to helping teach the curriculum, Minecraft also helps students learn digital citizenship skills. This is particularly important as we move increasingly into a digital world and potentially even into the metaverse – a 3D model of the internet. A place similar to the physical world where we spend our digital lives. Familiarising themselves with a digital world may even help to prepare students for the metaverse. Minecraft provides such a space where students can meet, interact with one another and explore.

Over the past year, primary school students across the island of Ireland took part in Ireland's Future is MINE, a joint initiative between Microsoft DreamSpace and RTÉjr involving the use of Minecraft: Education Edition as a digital tool to support learning. The initiative was linked to six weekly educational episodes on RTÉ Learn. The programmes were presented by teachers from Microsoft DreamSpace and helped teachers to design learning experiences for their students using Minecraft: Education Edition.

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From RTÉ Learn, Minecraft Cork project

The programmes required students to complete various challenges aligned to the curriculum and the initiative was also linked to a national competition. The competition required students to shape Ireland’s sustainable future using Minecraft: Education Edition, which allowed them to think creatively, collaborate, problem solve and re-imagine their communities in the future.

So is Minecraft the future of education? Undoubtedly, equipping young people with the necessary digital skills will be paramount for future and educators will need to adapt to this reality or risk being left behind. One means of achieving this is through digital games.

The use of digital-game based learning in schools is on the up and educators who have not introduced digital games into their class may be surprised at what they can teach students using these games, and what students can figure out on their own. Whether it’s Minecraft or another technology, digital games and even digital worlds are here to stay.

Are you a primary school teacher or principal interested in using Minecraft: Education Edition? Researchers at DCU are currently recruiting 5th and 6th primary school classes to take part in Creative Space. This is a research study that aims to support the development of students’ creativity and spatial awareness using Minecraft: Education Edition. Interested schools will find more details here

Prof Deirdre Butler is a Full Professor at the School of STEM Education, Innovation & Global Studies at the DCU Institute of Education. Dr. Éadaoin Slattery is a post-doctoral researcher in game-based learning and assessment at the Centre for Assessment Research, Policy and Practice in Education at DCU. She is an Irish Research Council awardee.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ