Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Games Based Learning (GBL): Review of the Research

There has been a lot of interest in the use of games in education. A recent teacher survey shows that:

  • 35% of the sample of UK teachers have already used computer games in their teaching
  • 60% of teachers would consider using computer games in their teaching in the future. 

In Scotland, Learning Teaching Scotland has promoted games in schools, including funding a games and learning centre for excellence.


“Almost 90% of teachers who used games stated they used games in their teaching “to engage students”. Almost half of teachers used them because they “independently wanted to offer an alternate way of teaching”. 31% were “inspired by other teachers”, while 7% had the idea “suggested by students”. The availability of consoles, publicity and articles has little impact on teachers using games.” NFER Futurelab 2009 survey 


Not everyone, though, is entirely convinced. A report from Becta (2010) provides a cautionary analysis of GBL. It states, “although some teachers are positive about the potential of games for learning, in particular to improve motivation and engagement, there are a number of challenges to introducing games in formal educational settings.” The following bullets outline the issues and puts forward some responses (in blue) based purpose built GBL rather than commercial games, which have so far tended to be the focus of research. 

  • The lack of integration of most games with the current curriculum and assessment framework:
  • Purpose built GBL should link to the curriculum and assessment framework.
  • Annual upgrades can keep them up-to-date.
  • Time constraints:
  • Games can be designed to fit into standard lesson times.
  • Save routines can allow the game play to spill over into a follow-on lesson.
  • Technical and logistical issues (cost, licensing, limitations of school computers, technical support):
  • Education games needn’t be the all singing dancing, gimmick-laden counterparts of commercial games that require the latest graphic cards.
  • Adobe Flash based games can be written without the need to install plug-in and can be quite small in file size provided they are not stuffed with audio and video.
  • Lack of teacher skills:
  • GBL programs do not need to be overly complicated. Commercial games are complex because need to keep interest over months (to offer value for money) not hours.
  • Contextual help can be embedded into the game.
  • Not all learners engage with games and many do not see a link between games and learning:
  • Purpose built GBL should easily demonstrate link between games and learning. Additional activities should re-enforce the message.
  • Teacher and parent concerns over the content of some games (e-safety):
  • This really is a problem associated with commercial games rather than purpose built GBL.

Others provide a warning for would be Games Based Learning developers. “The act of placing educational content inside a game does not guarantee that it will succeed in achieving a fun, motivating experience; meeting educational goals; or being a commercial success.” Glenda A. Gunter, Robert F. Kenny and Erik H. Vick (2007)

While GBL may not work in every situation, the potential gains are significant and expansive. Traci Sitzmann & Katherine Ely (2010) in performing a meta analysis of 65 studies and data from 6,476 trainees comparing post-training outcomes for simulation game and comparison groups, discovered that “overall, declarative knowledge was 11% higher for trainees taught with simulation games than a comparison group; procedural knowledge was 14% higher; retention was 9% higher; and self-efficacy was 20% higher.

“The emergence of Games Based Learning is offering the learning and teaching communities new opportunities to reach and motivate hard-to engage learner groups, support differentiated and personalised learning, address vocational and training-based course materials and provide new tools for teaching basic and key skills, science and maths education.” JISC Games Based Learning

The future is here:
“The category of game-based learning that is still two to three years away for schools, but one that has tremendous potential to transform education, includes open-ended, challenge-based, truly collaborative games…These games [develop generic skills and] lend themselves to curricular content, requiring students to discover and construct knowledge in order to solve problems. They are challenging to design well, but the results can be transformative.” Horizon Report, 2010.

Currently we are working on products under the brand games-ED (www.games-ed.co.uk), which achieve the goals set out in the Horizon Report, and they are being used in the classroom now. 



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