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New Learning Ratings From Common Sense Media

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The rise of game-based learning has come a long way from the 1985 version of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Today, in the world of education and learning, computer gaming is all the rage. From the open-ended sandbox game Minecraft through to the explosion of educational mobile games in app stores there is an increased interest in what and how children learn through the digital world. There is also the constant battle to try and define and establish just what children are learning and how to share that information with others.

Common Sense Media, the national nonprofit organization dedicated to helping kids and families thrive in a world of media and technology, is aiming to support parents and educators to better understand game-based learning. They have just launched a new learning ratings initiative that will evaluate the learning potential of websites, video games, and mobile apps. This is the latest step in a series of projects and programs that are trying to synthesis the explosion in media content for children and young people. It complements the research work of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center and the recent statement released by Fred Rogers Center and the 
National
 Association
 for 
the 
Education
 of 
Young 
Children 
(NAEYC) nicely, in that Common Sense Media provides a tool for parents and educators -- not just to find games that support learning, but to explore and understand what learning looks like in digital environments.

It is more understanding that parents need, as ongoing polls by Common Sense Media have indicated that despite the prevalence and willingness of parents to support their children's digital engagement, they are not convinced by the educational claims made by many developers. Parents are not convinced that children do that much learning when they are playing games. This new resource will meet that issue in two ways: it will provide a space that demonstrates that some digital games and tools do have learning potential and it will guide parents towards those games.

Beyond that though, there are several great things about this initiative.

First, it shifts the focus on Common Sense Media towards a more holistic view and analysis of media. They continue to provide a great crowd sourced space for reviews of children's digital and media content. This initiative gives a new perspective on the benefits and educational value of certain media. To see them grow in this way is exciting for parents and means they are an organization that will continue to grow and evolve with the dynamic media environment.

Secondly, they provide ratings that help parents and educators make better choices about the type of apps they want to choose for their children, if they are seeking apps that support learning, as well as entertainment. But in many ways this is a minor benefit.

The greater benefit is that Common Sense Media is giving parents and educators a language and a way to talk about media as a tool for learning. Their system, which is more than just categorizing subject areas, looks at the processes through which children learn and how digital technology and games support the development of 21st Century skills.

We should never assume that everyone knows and understands how learning takes place and that all parents have the ability to make the best decisions around the use of media as a learning tool. Educators, researchers and parents are all still navigating the difficult terrain and a level of uncertainty and skepticism is appropriate. There will never be a definitive answer to what digital tools are best for children, but these new learning ratings from Common Sense Media provide a good basis for conversation and improved understanding. They give parents guidance and also validate that when the time comes, their children will be learning when they are engaging with mobile apps or computer games. It also helps parents begin to see the differences and identify that not all games are equal when it comes to learning.

That said, that does not mean all games can't be educational. Angry Birds, in the hands of the right physics and maths teacher, can provide the foundation for some terrific learning. However, in itself it does not have the potential to teach a child basic physics. And, this is where the nuances of trying to rate and value an apps potential learning value appear. It is not an exact science, but it is necessary that we continue to try and develop tools that allow us to make judgments about the value of digital tools and games.

At the moment, Common Sense Media have developed on of the best tools out there. It is worth including in any parents "discovery arsenal" when it comes to making good decisions about their children's digital diet.

To see all learning reviews, visit www.commonsense.org/learning-ratings