The Benefits of Game Based Learning

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Games have high presence in non-formal and informal segments of learning. Unfortunately, in formal education games are still often seen just as non-serious activity and the potentials of games for learning stay undiscovered.

How to design effective learning opportunities? Why is learning by experience often more efficient than learning by studying? How to provide the learning experiences needed to respond to current challenges? Using computer games and games in general for learning purposes offers a variety of knowledge presentations and creates opportunities to apply the knowledge within a virtual world, thus supporting and facilitating the learning process.

Why do we choose games for learning?

Why do we play games in the first place? To have fun, to immerse into an imaginary world, to take the challenge and outsmart the opponents and/or win, etc. There are probably as many slightly different reasons to play games as there are players.

When we have a look at the games within the learning context as opposed to the activity only for the leisure time, we have learners’ and teachers’ perspective of using games for learning. From the learners’ point of view using a game for learning can have various meanings, e.g. learning and having fun, taking the challenge and achieve better score, trying out different roles, being able to experiment and seeing what happens, being able to express the feelings, be able to reflect about certain conflict situation, etc.

From the teachers’ perspective, we choose to use games for learning to reach a new generation of learners with a medium they are used to interact with from their childhood. We can offer a game for introducing a new learning topic thus raising the learners’ interest for this topic, or as a complementary activity for many other reasons, e.g. to create a complex learning opportunity, to increase the motivation of learners, to offer another way of interaction and communication.

Games can also be used for personal development and to improve self esteem of the player i.e. learner. In some cases, games can help to establish dialogue and break social and cultural boundaries. For disabled people games can offer opportunity to experience the world in a way that majority of us take as granted.

Key characteristics of game-based learning :

There are many different definitions of games. However the main characteristics that all these definitions have in common are: presence of rules, and clear and predefined objective that has to be reached within the game. Most of the games have also competitive elements (as opposed to some games like e.g. Sims, where the social skills are in foreground.)

Within the games there is a close link between action and instantaneous feedback. Learners are able to assess their own activities and see how they are doing i.e. are able to evaluate their decisions and taken courses of actions. One of the game characteristics is challenge, keeping in mind that challenge should match the skill level of the student and permanently adapt through the different levels of the game. Introduction of unexpected of novel events learners is additionally motivating to play the game and acquire new skills and knowledge.

Successful learning opportunities by means of games can be created when following the constructivist learning theory, where ‘constructivist’ means an exploratory approach to learning. Major characteristics of the constructivist approach are, among others, interaction, coping with problems, understanding of the whole, etc. From the constructivist point of view learners are active participants in knowledge acquisition, and engaged in restructuring, manipulating, re-inventing, and experimenting with knowledge to make it meaningful, organized, and permanent.

Benefits of game-based learning:

With using games we can influence motivation and engagement of the learners in a positive way. Games offer also a secure and contextual environment that foster different skill acquisition. Basic skill level starts with eye-hand coordination skills and continues to more complex skills e.g. problem solving skills, communication and collaboration skills, strategic thinking skills, social skills. In game-like learning environment, learning by doing, active learning and experiential learning step in foreground.

Most researchers conceptualize learning as a multidimensional construct of learning skills, cognitive learning outcomes, such as procedural, declarative and strategic knowledge, and attitudes. The game based learning model is used in some areas of formal education very successfully, in particular, in military, medicine, business, physical, etc. training. In many cases application of serious games and simulations for learning means an opportunity for learners’ to apply acquired knowledge and to experiment, get feedback in form of consequences thus getting the experiences in the “safe virtual world”. There are specific educational domains where game-based learning concepts and approaches have a high learning value. These domains are interdisciplinary topics where skills such as critical thinking, group communication, debate and decision making are of high importance. Such subjects, if learned in isolation, often cannot be applied in real world contexts.

Process of choosing games for learning:

There are many different off the shelf games that can be used in the learning context. There are also possibilities of using low tech solutions for playing games like e-learning platforms, forums or chat. But which game to use? and how to choose the game in the first place.

The first question that has to be answered is “What do we want that learners learn?” Based on the learning objectives we can choose games that we want to use for the classes. To improve factual knowledge of the learner, we can introduce quiz games, e.g. Al Morale’s game show presenter. In the area of learning objectives related to social interaction, games that involve many players, e.g. strategic or role play games can be applied. The innovative UniGame game classification that is based on learning goals, outlines in detail required game features and related games that help to achieve the different learning goals.

Part of the process of choosing games for learning includes also consideration of various constraints and opportunities in the learning setting, e.g. size of the student group, technical possibilities for students, ICT skills of students (as well as ICT skills of teacher), licensing policy, sustainability, etc. Systematic approach of introducing the game based learning and/or implementing their own game ideas is described in the book ““Guidelines for Game-Based Learning”.

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