Does Game Based Learning Work?

Does Game Based Learning Work? Short answer: Yes. Blunt’s analysis of three studies draws together enough empirical data to suggest that there is a correlation between gaming and test scores.

The idea of the study was simply to discover whether COTS (commercial, off-the shelf) games facilitate improved learning in a classroom environment. The results strongly suggest that there’s benefits to combining gaming and learning. Blunt used a theoretical framework which considered multiple concepts:

  • ARCS (attention, relevance, confidence, satisfaction). This model identifies four areas in which learning is broken into parts. The theory is that students require motivation as well as practical examples of how a system works (which the students can use to help their understanding).
  • Good Video Game Design. Of particular importance is the computer game’s quality. The game must have rules (restrictions and generic codes), goals & objectives, be challenging and be engaging.

Blunt conducted three separate studies at a university level. All of the subjects were business related – business, economics, management. Each subject had a corresponding COTS computer game which fit the curriculum. As a study control, the subjects that were chosen had two or more class groups. One group was allowed to play computer games as a part of the curriculum, the other class (which was learning exactly the same content) didn’t have access to a computer game – ie it was a standard class. At the end of the course, students were given standardised tests.

The results were very encouraging. The classes which included computer games had a much higher average score and more “A” level results than classes without the games. Also, classes with computer games had no students fail the course, while the other classes had a number of fails. The results also considered other matrices such as gender and ethnicity. Overall, computer games seemed to have almost no discernible affect on gender or ethnicity. The only other significant factor was age. Students under 40 years of age performed significantly better with computer games. Students over 41 didn’t benefit from using computer games in class.

Blunt concludes that his results are significant, however the problem he is trying to address is the lack of empirical data which can be used to prove a causal-comparative relationship between computer games and learning.

Simulations. We have plenty of empirical studies about simulations over the last 25 years. We know simulations work. We know simulations improve performance. We know simulations improve learning. Yet, I challenge anyone to show me a literature review of empirical studies about game- based learning. There are none. We are charging head-long into game-based learning without knowing if it works or not. We need studies. – Dr J. Cannon-Bowers


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