Friday, 23 August 2013

Summary of Games Based Learning Meta-Analysis

Image courtesy of Tess Watson on Flickr.
A report by Futurelab at NFER was published in April 2013 entitled: ‘Game-based learning: latest evidence and future directions’.  The study was a meta-analysis of some of the existing research surrounding games based learning.  It sought to answer the following questions:

  • What is game-based learning?
  • What is the impact and potential impact of game-based learning on learners’ engagement and attainment? 
  • What is the nature and extent of the evidence base?
  • What are the implications for schools?

The authors found some interesting findings which I will summarise below and also offered some advice to teachers based on their findings (also below).

Academic Achievement

  • Where studies expressly sought to measure ‘academic achievement’, five calculated some degree of improvement. 
  • Another meta-analysis observed significant, but undefined, cognitive gains across studies utilising games versus traditional teaching methods.
  • However, four studies found no impact on academic achievement.

Problem Solving Skills

  • The studies consistently found that video games can impact positively on problem solving skills.
  • All five studies that specifically focused on problem solving skills found some degree of improvement.

Motivation and Engagement

  • The studies consistently found that video games can impact positively on motivation and engagement.
  • The majority of the studies examining the impact of video games on student motivation and engagement found positive results.  However, it was unclear whether this impact could be sustained.

Attitude to Learning

  • One study found that games promoted a more positive attitude to maths learning. 
  • Another study explored mathematics or academic self-concept (the set of beliefs an individual holds about themselves as a mathematician) and found no improvement. 
  • However, a meta-analysis found that significantly better attitudes towards learning were yielded for subjects using interactive games or simulations, compared to those using traditional methods for instruction.

Advice to teachers:

“The best way of integrating gaming into teaching is by using it within a clear pedagogic process. In particular:

  • Place learning activities and academic content within the video game’s fictional and entertainment context, maintaining a balance between fun and learning. 
  • Make the academic content integral to the game rather than an add-on. Content-specific tasks work better when embedded in the fictional context and rules (‘mechanics’) of the game. 
  • Carefully plan the roles that you and your learners will take on in the game. Teachers should play roles that allow them to mediate the experience for learners: providing guidance when needed; ensuring that rules are followed; and maintaining a respectful atmosphere.
  • Don’t try to divorce decontextualized components of a game (such as badges, scores or leaderboards) from the fictional context and rules of the game (the ‘mechanics’)”

We would agree with this advice and it is similar to the advice we give in our Games Based Learning Analysis and Planning Tool (click to download) and our blog post “Six Key Principles of Collaborative Games Based Learning”.

The report seems very positive and optimistic about games based learning.  However, the authors seemed disappointed at the amount of and validity of existing research.  For example they say, “It is important we develop a more analytic approach that considers how the different elements that operate within video games impact in an educational setting” and “We noted a complete lack of evidence about ‘gamification’.”  That is, to some extent, to be expected as games based learning is a relatively new phenomenon.  However, what they did find was insightful and supports some of our opinions about games based learning.  It will be interesting to see what future research has to say about games based learning and gamification in education, and there is likely to be much more of it in the near future.


Perrotta, C., Featherstone, G., Aston, H. and Houghton, E. (2013). Game-based Learning: Latest Evidence and Future Directions (NFER Research Programme: Innovation in Education). Slough: NFER.

Click here to read in full.

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