Why Does Game-Based Learning Work?
A Learning Brief by Sharon Boller
Forty years of research[i] says yes, games are effective learning tools. People learn from games…and they will learn MORE from a game than from other forms of learning.[ii] However, most people don’t get WHY games work, which causes them to dismiss games as frivolous.
If you want to defend games as a laudable learning strategy, you need to be able to explain how the fun of games links to the essentials of effective learning design. Let’s start with the fun. Fun can be:
- Winning! Most of us like to win at things even though some of us might say we don’t like competition. Games don’t necessarily have to be competitive. Games can be cooperative or competitive. Cooperation can still lead to a “win” state in a game if you beat the game or achieve the game goal.
- Triumphing. Triumphing might mean vanquishing an opponent or it could mean mastering something really, really hard (such as a level in a game or an in-game challenge). People love triumphs and the sense of emerging victorious over a human opponent or opposition of any type.
- Collaborating. Lots of folks enjoy the opportunity to work with others. Think of times you’ve played a game as a team – and the enjoyment you got out of working together as a team toward the game goal.
- Exploring and Building. How many of us got a kick out of checking out all the rooms in Clue as kids and making suggestions? What about participating in a scavenger hunt? Millions of players enjoy the online game, Civilization, and the ability to explore new territories and build cities. Not convinced? How about all the people who enjoy wandering around the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art or any other museum. It’s a love of exploring that makes these visits enjoyable.
- Collecting. Ever play Pac Man? As your expertise in the game built, you collected more and more achievements. If you play Backgammon, you collect your opponent’s markers. Lots of card games allow you to collect cards (Rummy, Canasta). Many folks make hobbies out of collecting memorabilia. Lots of people find collecting fun.
- Problem solving or strategizing. Crossword puzzles, word searches, and strategy games are popular because people like to solve problems and they like to formulate strategies that can help them build things, achieve, collect, triumph, etc.
- Role-playing or imagining. Getting to be someone or something you’re not in the real world is fun for many people. It’s also a very safe way to try on new behaviors.
- Surprise. Lots of us enjoy the element of surprise or the unexpected. Often the biggest fun is in initiating the surprise, not receiving the surprise.
Now, let’s identify essential elements[iii] needed for learning to happen…
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