Monday, July 9, 2018

A Meaningful Approach to Game-Based Learning in the Classroom

(Image courtesy of YoungUpstarts)

For the past two decades, video games have been increasing in popularity and sales (Entertainment Software Association, 2016). In my experience, it is uncommon to enter the classroom and not hear youth discussing what games they are playing. The reoccurring discussion of digital gaming in the classroom has led me to wonder if there is a way to utilize them for learning. Examples like MinecraftEdu and KerbalEdu have shown that efforts are being made, but what can we do to meaningfully integrate games into the classroom?


Pelling, N (2002), coined the term ‘gamification’ which influences game-based learning theories in K-12 education today. His notion of “the more learning feels like a game, the more likely users are going to embrace it”, is widely accepted in this area of research (Marczewski, 2012). As explained by Andrezj Marczewski (2012), education systems need to comprehend new ways to teach and provide students with applications that allow for creative learning. Introducing “gameful thinking”, extends our understanding of how we develop game elements into general educational settings (2012).

Game-based pedagogy is one that allows teachers to influence curriculum expectations and install learning goals through interactive and engaging games (Randbeeck, W., 2016). Evidence shows that skill building throughout various numeracy and literacy concepts (spatial sense, verbal reasoning and logical thinking) happens for students during the development and use of games (Marczewski, A., 2012).


Teachers need to remain cautious of requiring students to become ‘gamified’ or develop game products, if the learner does not see the value; it can have detrimental effects (Randbeeck, W., 2016). It is important that we are considering what and how we are integrating video games into the classroom. While games that are familiar to them may be engaging, it is equally vital that the game has the potential to be used for learning. People do learn well from games and while using them, but the skills only transfer so far, the content in the game needs to remain grounded in curriculum learning (Kopcha, et al., 2016). A game like Fortnite may be excitedly welcomed to the classroom, but it does not have the malleability that MinecraftEdu has. 

In my experience thus far, the games that have shown the most potential for learning are the open-ended titles; games such as MinecraftEdu or KerbalEdu provide both educators and learners a variety of tools to use. The benefit of these kinds of games, is that they allow you to design lessons that you may want to facilitate in the classroom, digitally. With unlimited digital resources, and a malleable space, educators can create their ideal learning space for their students. Additionally, both these titles were existing games, that have been modified with the classroom in mind. Thus, they are accommodating and supportive of educators who wish to use them.

Another approach to integrating digital games is to design a lesson plan around a game with potential. For example, Roller Coaster Tycoon is a game about managing and designing theme parks. It may not outright have the intention of being educational, however it does contain challenges, which support the development of different skills. For example, to complete some levels, the player has to budget their spending to meet their income goals. ChangeGamer is an organization that attempts to support this approach; they find existing games that show potential for learning, and develop lesson plans to coincide with the game. 

Limitations and Considerations

Although in my experience, video games have shown the potential to be meaningful tools for learning, they are not without their limitations. Not all technology may benefit the learner, therefore trial and error may be necessary to determine appropriate implementation. Additionally, if the person facilitating new tools cannot understand how to use them, there could be hesitation. Making it difficult to create a unified approach.

We also have to ensure that we are not attempting to integrate video games, when it is not necessary; using new technological approaches when it is not necessary, could result in poor learning experiences (Randbeeck, W., 2016). To conclude this discussion, I leave you with some questions for consideration: Is our current structure benefitting learners? Does the role of the educator have to change? What if not every school has the necessary funding for the suggested tools?


Adams Becker, S., Freeman, A., Giesinger Hall, C., Cummins, M., and Yuhnke, B. (2017). NMC/CoSN Horizon Report: 2016 K-12 Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium. (PG. 28)
Entertainment Software Association. (2016). Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry. Retrieved from
Kopcha, T. J., Ding, L., Neumann, K. L., & Choi, I. (2016). Teaching Technology Integration to K-12 Educators: A ‘Gamified’ Approach. TechTrends, 60(1), 62-69. doi:10.1007/s11528-015-
Marczewski, Andrzej (April 2012). Gamification: A Simple Introduction (1st ed.). p. 3. ISBN 978-1-4717-9866-5. Retrieved March 20th, 2017 Published April 5th, 2016

Randbeeck, W. (2016), Gamification in Citizen Participation, Accessed, January 25th, 2017

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