PhD researcher Rachael Folds from Nottingham Trent University's School of Education in the UK has been studying the use of interactive mimetic digital games (physical movement-focused Wii and Kinect games) and how they can help improve skills as well as increase motivation to learn.

Folds' research was carried out on a number of students from Loughborough College in the UK who were in the process of undergoing specialist training programs assisting in the transition from Special Schools -- where they would have had small-group or one-to-one support with their learning difficulties -- into more demanding further education courses beyond the age of 16. Participants in the study were aged between 16 and 24 and had disabilities ranging from Down's Syndrome to autism spectrum disorders.

To measure the students' progress, Folds asked them to attempt hitting back ten forehand and backhand tennis balls and then serving ten balls. They were then tasked with "training" themselves using a Wii tennis game over the course of five weeks. After the five weeks were up, Folds found that 75% out of the group of 24 students had improved their scores on the video game, and the final real-world test showed that as a group, their average skills had improved by 53%.

The second stage of the study was carried out in a similar fashion, using ten-pin bowling. 18 students participated in this stage, with the five-week "training" session being carried out using a Kinect bowling game rather than the Wii. This stage showed 94% of the 18 participants getting higher scores in the fifth week than they did when they first started. Their average real-world bowling skill also improved by 143%.

After the tests, 92% of the students said they would like to use video games to help them learn in college in the future. The same proportion believed that games of the type they had played helped them learn better than traditional teaching methods. 93% said that the games engaged their interests effectively, 87% said that they had learned some things that they hadn't expected, and every participant said that they were confident they would be able to pass a test based upon what they had learned.

Said Folds: "The initial results from this small sample suggest that interactive games teach the students movements which they can improve upon and mimic in everyday life. Although they were playing tennis and bowling in the trial, games which teach them how to do things like bake a cake or change a tyre could potentially be very beneficial."

Anita Smith of Loughborough College, from which the students who participated in the trial were picked, added: "Our students often have difficulties in focusing their attention and this project has enabled them improve their motivation and concentration on learning. We are looking forward to expanding the research in collaboration with Rachael by actively involving more students in 2011-2012, as well as developing the learners' skills using digital game based learning in the future."

This article originally appeared on as Video Games Help Learning Difficulties