Why Does Game Based Learning Work?

28 November 2013 3,662 views One Comment

The idea of game based learning, also known as GBL, has been in the news a lot lately and you may be wondering if it’s more than just hype. Kids learning from games? The same games that were in the news not to long ago as possibly increasing violent tendencies, and definitely taking time away from homework and studying?

Well, like anything else in life, there tend to be positive and negative aspects to games. Some games are overly violent, and many games are more appealing than homework without offering anything more than a distraction. However, plenty of games also encourage critical thinking, problem solving, and long term strategizing, among other skills. But so do textbooks and worksheets – why are games getting so much attention?

Games work well as learning tools because they tap into certain techniques that actually line up well with what we know about teaching and learning. There are several learning theories that  explain why games are natural learning environment – I’ll discuss a few of the main ones here.

  • Situated Learning Theory – Learners benefit from a practical approach where they can apply what they’re learning, in the context where it is needed. Games do this very well – if a training level teaches a player how to shoot a bow and arrow, it’s because they will soon be presented with challenges that require using a bow and arrow. Context not only enhances comprehension, but also strengthens memory so that it is easier to recall the information at a later time.
  • Active Learning Theory – Doing an activity is a better way to learn than talking or thinking about it. Games don’t bother asking for essay-length descriptions, they simply ask the player to do something, and see the results. If an attempt is unsuccessful, the player can usually try again, or try a different solution.
  • Mastery Learning – In order to progress to more advanced material, a learner has to show that they’ve mastered the current material. Otherwise, they are more likely to fail at the advanced level. Similarly, a player has to successfully pass lower levels before proceeding to more challenging ones.

Games naturally encourage learning by providing a practical application of skills and knowledge, in their proper context,  and by advancing players at their own pace as they master challenges.

One Comment »

  • Sean Hoeing said:

    Game based learning has been in place for generations. Long before electricity was even discovered, learning was passed on through games. Let’s be careful that our current version of game based learning is not limited to computers, tablets and other modern tech devises, but instead incorporates these modern miracles into the total human experience. As my college bound son stated in his application essay, his greatest question is “What is my purpose?” I am certain that our collective purpose is not to migrate the human experience to a digital platform, but instead to enhance human interaction. So the next time you sit down to develop a learning “game” think about starting with questions like these. How will this game teach the player to be a better human being? What learning will take place that will impact the player’s life AFTER they leave the game? How will the game influence the player’s next face to face interaction? Technology is wonderful – I am able to distribute this message from my iPad while drinking a cup of coffee waiting for my daughter to finish her ballet lesson – WOW!

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