Game-Based Learning: A Tool for Teachers

October 15, 2018

Are You Game?

Creativity, tenacity, and problem-solving, are all essential to success in the gaming world. Well-crafted learning games instill a deeper understanding of target concepts, while strategic games build the players’ patience, design-thinking, and forward-thinking skills.

If we apply this methodology of learning to the classroom, we can encourage students’ imagination, innovation, and problem-solving abilities. Game designer Jane McGonigal believes that we can harness gamer power to solve real-world problems.

Game-Based Learning requires a shift in instruction.

With Game-based learning (GBL) the teacher shifts away from being the source of knowledge and, instead, allows for more student independence.  Students are given the opportunity to practice learning with a greater degree of self-direction and discovery. In short, game-based learning is useful in promoting higher-order thinking and conceptual learning – and since it’s done through games, students hardly notice the learning happening!

Backed by science:

According to a study conducted by Columbia, NYU, and City University of New York,

Though there is a difference in the amount of time boys and girls spend in the virtual world, they found no significant gender differences in motivational or learning outcomes. Not only does it boost learning outcomes for all users, GBL also addresses what the researchers call “graceful failure”.

“Another argument for game-based learning is that it allows for graceful failure: Rather than describing it as an undesirable outcome, failure is by design an expected and sometimes even necessary step in the learning process (Kapur, 2008; Kapur & Bielaczyc, 2012; Kapur & Kinzer, 2009; Plass, Perlin, et al., 2010).

Science teacher Paul Andersen shares how he has implemented “graceful failure” in his TED talk. He explains how learning in his AP Biology classroom has greatly improved with GBL. For more information on Andersen’s work see:

Students will experience disappointment and failure in the real world, why not prepare them for this in a low-risk, manageable way?

This evolving tool is not new to educators. It’s been used in classrooms since the 1970s. From board games to role-playing (RPG), and even digital-based games, GBL revolutionized learning. One digital example is The Oregon Trail, the well-regarded historical series of educational computer games that began in 1971. It was followed by the ever-immersive SimCity, developed in 1989.

Recent additions to our virtually educational world include quizzes that may be utilized as “level-up” opportunities.  In order for students to advance, they must pass the next “level” of questions that are designed to be “obstacles” in the game.

In "3 Examples of Game-Based Learning" Ryan Schaaf explains that Gaming Through Government incorporates quizzes so that the student may advance from a state representative, to Governor, to Vice President, and eventually onto the ultimate goal of the President of the United States. In order to play, the students must be well-versed in US government structure and policies.

As a gamification analyst, consultant, and speaker, Karl Kapp offers another take on GBL’s research application, as he used it to share the history of the Darfurian people with his students. So, not only is gaming fun but it's informative and allows for practical application!

Game-Based Learning may be a medium for Project-Based Learning.

GBL incorporates collaborative gaming. With, students not only engage in problem-solving, they also practice the quality of self-sacrifice as they may forfeit their own character’s advancement in order to benefit another player. Though many fear that technology is creating a more isolated individual, games such as allow for more humanitarian interactions.

Additionally, Kahoot! offers a wide variety of gaming options as educators (and businesses) play in a group setting and/or single-player mode on a mobile device. Questions, designed by the educator, appear on a shared screen and players (read students) answer on their devices. If students wish to Kahoot! after class, they can also complete a challenge at home.

GBL vs. Old School

While some educators feel game-based learning is fruitless or too time-consuming to integrate into their curriculum, it’s important to realize how beneficial GBL can be and how successful its application is -- especially for today’s learners.

In addition to making learning more fun, game-based learning:

  • Motivates learners and rewards participation
  • Requires authentic engagement
  • Empowers students to move at their own pace
  • Incorporates modern instructional practices
  • Provides immediate feedback to teachers about the learners
  • Promotes cognitive growth, and social literacy

In most digital games the player must solve puzzles, strategize, and overcome obstacles. The ability to replay difficult levels of a given game allows the student to practice perseverance, strategic thinking to plan their next move.

As in the world of games, real life, real learning, and real success requires:

  • Flexible thinking
  • Spontaneous change
  • Pattern recognition
  • Unwavering persistence

GBL for the Win!

Given the benefits of GBL to modern learners, it’s no surprise that games of all kinds have been established as powerful teaching and learning tools, worthy of consideration by all educators. Given that the level of interest and engagement encompasses a broad range of individuals and, considering the kinds of social activities they are involved in, advocates argue that digital games are an appropriate and effective medium for education.

We’ve discussed here just a few gaming options, all with different integration practices. In each situation, there is evidence of student-centered learning, formative assessment, and teacher reflection. Game-based learning is quite a versatile strategy, let us know how it works for you!

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