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What is Game-Based Learning?

Some people use the terms gamification and game-based learning interchangeably. There are, however, significant differences between the two concepts.

Here is an article comparing the two terms.

Here are a few definitions of game-based learning by different researchers.

“…game-based learning is a form of experiential engagement in which people learn by trial and error, by role-playing and by treating a certain topic not as ‘content’ but as a set of rules, or a system of choices and consequences.” (Perrotta et al. 2013)

“Definitions of game-based learning mostly emphasize that it is a type of gameplay with defined learning outcomes (Shaffer, Halverson, Squire, & Gee, 2005). Usually, it is assumed that the game is a digital game, but this is not always the case. “(Plass et al. 2015)

“Game-based learning (GBL) describes an environment where game content and gameplay enhance knowledge and skills acquisition, and where game activities involve problem-solving spaces and challenges that provide players/learners with a sense of achievement.” (Qian and Clark, 2016)

“Game-based learning is not just creating games for students to play, it is designing learning activities that can incrementally introduce concepts, and guide users towards an end goal.” (Pho and Dinscore, 2015)

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The “boring” part.

Admiraal, W., Huizenga, J., Akkerman, S., & Dam, G. T. (2011). The concept of flow in collaborative game-based learning. Computers in Human Behavior27(3), 1185–1194.

Bourgonjon, J., De Grove, F., De Smet, C., Van Looy, J., Soetaert, R., & Valcke, M. (2013). Acceptance of game-based learning by secondary school teachers. Computers & Education67, 21–35.

Faiella, F., & Ricciardi, M. (2015). Gamification and learning: a review of issues and research. Journal of E-Learning and Knowledge Society11(3).

Gibson, D. C., Knezek, G., Redmond, P., & Bradley, E. (2014). Handbook of games and simulations in teacher education. Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

Perrotta, C., Featherstone, G., Aston, H., & Houghton, E. (2013). Game-based learning: Latest evidence and future directions. Slough: NFER.

Pho, A., & Dinscore, A. (2015). Game-based learning. Tips and trends.

Plass, J. L., Homer, B. D., & Kinzer, C. K. (2015). Foundations of Game-Based Learning. Educational Psychologist50(4), 258–283.

Prensky, M. (2003). Digital game-based learning. Computers in Entertainment1(1), 21–21.

Qian, M., & Clark, K. R. (2016). Game-based Learning and 21st century skills: A review of recent research. Computers in Human Behavior63, 50–58.

Sung, H.-Y., & Hwang, G.-J. (2013). A collaborative game-based learning approach to improving students’ learning performance in science courses. Computers & Education63, 43–51.

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The Principles and Mechanisms of Game-Based Learning

The above figure is from Perrotta et al. (2013)

According to the authors, the principles of Game-Based learning include:

  • Intrinsic motivation
  • Learning through intense enjoyment and “fun”
  • Authenticity
  • Self-reliance and autonomy
  • Experimental learning

And specifically, the mechanisms of Game-Based learning include:

  • Rules
  • Clear but challenging goals
  • A fictional setting or “fantasy” that provides a compelling background
  • Progressive difficulty levels
  • Interaction and high degree of student control
  • Immediate and constructive feedback
  • A social element that allows people to share experiences and build bonds
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Affective and Sociocultural Foundations of Game-based Learning

Emotional Design
“Emotional design refers to the use of design features to induce emotions that are conducive to learning.” (Plass et al., 2015)
Activity Theory
“Activity theory has been attractive because games are dynamic and situations, artifacts, and player expertise all change throughout the course of play.” (Plass et al., 2015)
Observational Learning
“In a social sense, videogames affect not only players but also observers of play.

In some cases, observers have been found to learn more from the game than players (deHaan et al., 2010).” (Plass et al., 2015)
Relatedness and Self Perception
“Self-determination theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000a, 2000b) includes the notion of relatedness, defined as a sense that one has of being connected to others.
As players interact with others during gameplay, establishing a sense of connection with others in (and out) of the game world becomes important for engagement…” (Plass et al., 2015)
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Motivational Foundations of Game-Based Learning

Intrinsic Motivation
“Core elements of game design, including challenge, curiosity, and fantasy, are thought to be intrinsically motivating for players.” (Plass et al., 2015)
Values and Interests
“Several motivational theories focus on the values and interests of learners. For example, expectancy-value theories (e.g., Eccles et al., 1998) identify different motivational components that can provide value to a learning task and focus on the specific outcomes that learners expect and what value they place on those outcomes.

A number of game design elements, such as game mechanics, mode of play, and the use of badges, can affect the situational interest experienced by the learner.” (Plass et al., 2015)
Achievement-Related Goals
“… these results indicate a need for considering students’ achievement orientation and interest when designing educational games, but more research is needed in this area.” (Plass et al., 2015)
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Cognitive foundations of game-based learning

Cognitive load/cognitive processing
“Designers also have to consider the cognitive demand of processing the meaning of the various game elements, that is, the cognitive load experienced by the learner during gameplay.” (Plass et al., 2015)
“… the benefit of games is that they can present information and problems in ways that closely mirror real life, which facilitates the transfer of learning.” (Plass et al., 2015)
Transfer of learning
“Games can facilitate both roads to transfer by giving repeated opportunity to practice skills and apply knowledge (low road) and by providing different, but related, experiences that facilitate the abstractions needed for knowledge to be generalized to novel situations (high road).” (Plass et al., 2015)
Representation of Information
“Another strength of games is their highly visual nature: Most games represent key information in compelling visual form.” (Plass et al., 2015)