Game-based learning (GBL) is a seemingly simple concept – learning through the use of games.
But wait, let’s look a little closer. Most people see the term “game-based learning” and think of students playing some sort of educational computer game. But, there’s more to GBL than just that.
Let’s take a look at GBL in terms of the game and pedagogical considerations:
- Games can be digital (e.g., videogame or computer game) or non-digital (e.g., board game)
- Games can be of different types or genres (e.g., role-playing games or simulations)
- Games can be played on different platforms (e.g., videogame consoles, computers, mobile devices, paper and pencil)
- Games can take place in different environments (e.g., classrooms or workspaces, computer-based 3D worlds, transmedia)
- Games can be designed to be played by individuals or multiple players
- Consider how content and/or skills can be better learned via GBL vs. traditional methods
- Consider using game mechanics in the learning system, such as using levels instead of grades (i.e., gamification of the learning process)
- Consider having students create their own games in order to learn content and/or skills
In Jane McGonigal’s book Reality Is Broken (which I highly recommend reading), she defines a game as an activity that has goals, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation.
In addition to the considerations above, we need to look at these characteristics of games to question how they can affect potential learning outcomes:
- Goals – how does the game match its goals for the players with the learning objectives?
- Rules – how do the rules affect the assessment and learning outcomes?
- Feedback System – is there good formative assessment feedback built-in to the game that will help both learner and teacher?
- Voluntary Participation – if students are forced to play a game, it may become less of a game and more like work, so is the game engaging enough to motivate students to play the game voluntarily?
Some definitions of a game also include “conflict” as another characteristic, so another question educators need to ask is:
- Conflict – does the level of conflict in the game promote or detract from the learning?
Games will undoubtedly evolve in the future and therefore GBL will also need to evolve. Today, we are seeing new types of gaming, such as alternate reality games and social/mobile games, and we are also seeing new, innovative ways to use GBL.
Who knows what the future will hold with new games and GBL? It’s an exciting time for all of us interested GBL and its current and future role in education, don’t you think?