Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Is Games Based Learning the Solution to Student Engagement?

I recently came across an article from Edutopia entitled, ‘Kids Speak Out on Student Engagement’.  The article is a teacher’s summary of 220 students’ responses when asked what engages them.  Interestingly, they could mostly be answered, if only in part, by games based learning.  Below is her list, with my comments about how GBL could help.


  1. Working with their peers – the original article explains the power of collaborative learning and discussion.  Many games are designed to be played together and many that aren’t designed this way can still be used in groups.  Games can spark discussion and debate, even if learners are working/playing ‘alone’.  Games can encourage students to problem-solve collaboratively and improve their communication skills.
  2. Working with technology – of course GBL doesn’t have to involve technology, but that is the main focus of our blog.  Therefore, games are a great way to get students working with technology in an exciting and productive way.  The article also explains that technology can allow powerful ‘learning by doing’.  An immersive game can help people learn knowledge and skills in a more meaningful way.  And as the article hints, technology (and often gaming) is so prevalent in young people’s lives that it makes little sense for school to be technology and game-free.
  3. Connecting the real world to the work we do / project based learning – good game design should help learners connect their learning to the real world.  The games should be relatable and relevant.  All of these things can help motivate students and allow for better memory encoding.  Games can be used as part of a larger project.  However, a good serious game almost acts as a project in itself.  It could allow exploration, learning, problem-solving, creativity and develop the student’s understanding/skills from start to finish.
  4. Clearly love what you do – this is about the teachers.  If you are reading this now, it is likely that you are interested in, or maybe even passionate about GBL or innovative, 21st education.  Therefore, bringing a game to the table is likely to be something that you are excited about and that will rub off on students.  
  5. Get me out of my seat! – The article explains that students learn most when they are active.  Not all games are built for movement, however some are.  For example, see our articles, ‘Kinect Games Based Learning’ and ‘Proof of the Pudding…’ (this one explains one of our games based workshops where the children or adults are encouraged to get out of their seats to negotiate, problem-solve, prioritise and more with other individuals and groups).
  6. Bring in visuals – a good game will have meaningful visuals.  These can make concepts clearer and motivate learners.  For example, in our game, mentioned above, the children are put in charge of a town, which they have to improve by making purchase decisions.  The town graphic, as well as the reports, change according to their decisions.
  7. Student choice – games can be very good for encouraging self-directed learning.  The article also mentions having a choice of activities related to a topic for different levels.  Games can be wonderful for allowing learning at the student’s pace and level.  Often games advance when the student has mastered the initial knowledge and skills.
  8. Understand your clients – the kids – this one is obviously very dependent on the teacher’s attitude.  The article explains how important the culture of the classroom can be for encouraging learning.  Allowing learners to play games at school has the potential to bring about a lot of respect for the teacher.  This is especially true if the learners are given freedom to play the game as they wish.  Games can be very self-directed but structured which can encourage a positive environment in classrooms.
  9. Mix it up! – Obviously games are a great way to mix things up.  They get people doing an activity that is unlike the norm, which can wake people up and keep them motivated to learn.  The article also talks about multiple learning styles (e.g. auditory, kinaesthetic).  See our article ‘Games Based Learning Supports Multiple Learning Styles’ for more about this.
  10. Be human – the article finishes by reminding teachers to have fun themselves.  GBL can be a great way to break up the monotony, spark the imagination, bring fun into learning, wake people up, inspire and so on.  These things are important for teachers as well as students.  The article also suggests asking students what engages and motivates them.  How about going to work tomorrow and asking your students what they would like to see more of in the classroom?  Or maybe even if they would like to try GBL?

For the original article, click here.

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