Game-based learning – new research

Nfer-gamelearning

I see and hear lots of reference to game-based learning these days – the concept isn't new, but is certainly seeing a resurgance of interest with ongoing development of computer-based games and the application of the principles of this sort of game-playing being applied to the design of learning experiences for students. 

The National Foundation for Education Rsearch (nfer) and Futurelab have just published a report titled Game-based learning: latest evidence and future directions (PDF) which provides some useful perspectives on the types of educational values that can be attached to gaming.

The report first considers how the notion of game-based learning is defined, with a review of the literature and then offering some thoughts for moving forward. It then addresses the impct and potential impact of game-based learning on education, before considering specifically the implications for future reserach and implications for teachers and schools.

An excellent publication for anyone interested in game-based learning, particularly those looking at doing research in this area.

The main findings are as follows:

  • The literature was split on the extent to which video games can impact upon overall academic performance.
  • The studies consistently found that video games can impact positively on problem solving skills, motivation and engagement. However, it was unclear whether this impact could be sustained over time.
  • Despite some promising results, the current literature does not evidence adequately the presumed link between motivation, attitude to learning and learning outcomes. Overall, the strength of the evidence was often affected by the research design or lack of information about the research design.

2 thoughts on “Game-based learning – new research

  1. My suggestion is this: Forget research and definitions. Design your own games, observe the benefits and refine your mastery of an invaluable example of what Gardner will call, 'new learning' – "Changing Minds".

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  2. @Graeme  — this is an area where *observation* can be a poor indicator of what is actually happening. Outside of pure simulations, most games as well as game-like (using game mechanics with positive reinforcement, aka "gamification") can so easily lead us to mistake engagement around the *game* (usually the positive reinforcement / incentives / extrinsic motivators) for engagement with *the thing we want them to learn* (unless the thing we want them to learn IS the game). So it's tricky. And it can take quite a long time to discern precisely which benefits you are actually getting. And not ALL *engagement* is good engagement in the long run; switching on the learner's dopamine reward system comes at its own cognitive cost, both in the short term (steals cognitive cycles from what *could* have been used for deeper learning) and, in some cases, the longer term. The SDT research on the potential DEmotivating effect of extrinsic rewards is masked by the initial appearance of motivation. 

    As one who spent quite a long part of her career as both a teacher and a game developer — including teaching a course at UCLA on applying game principles to learning — the more I learned on these topics, the more I began backing away from my own previous work (and enthusiasm) in this area. That said — I have nothing but empathy for teachers who are seeking solutions for engagement. But there are better ways with less downside.

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