1 Game-Based Learning

Game-Based Learning

Odbayar Batsaikhan

Learning Objectives

  • Define Game-Based Learning
  • Distinguish between Games, Gamification, Simulations, Virtual Worlds, and Adaptive Learning

Game-based learning (GBL) is an active learning strategy that is an intersection between game elements and the learning environment, using strategies typically reserved for games to encourage and enhance learning, practice, and assessment. Game-based learning relies on defined learning outcomes and often uses a cycle of failure, reflection, and repetition to provide safe yet meaningful learning experiences for students. Over the past decade, game-based learning has grown tremendously in the classroom.  If you considered using digital games to help students learn a few decades ago, people would have thought of you as unconventional and a maverick. Today, game-based learning is more widely known and used by many teachers who have their students play games at least weekly (Takeuchi & Vaala, 2014). GBL is not restricted to digital games but encompasses a wide variety of strategies that include board games, gamification, simulations, and adaptive learning. Figure 1 shows the differences between the various strategies.

Game-based Learning Gamification Simulations Adaptive Learning
Brief Definition​ A type of gameplay that has defined learning outcomes​ The application of game elements to non-game activities or contexts​ A controlled environment that is as realistic as possible where learners can practice behaviors free of risk​ Learning through technology that provides real-time feedback, support, and rigor​
Major points​ Serious games​





Impact of decisions​





Examples​ Win the White House​ Lose It​ Nursing Gap​ Acrobatiq​

Figure 1. Comparison of GBL, gamification, simulations, and adaptive learning.

Game-based learning involves designing learning activities so that game principles and characteristics are embedded within the learning activities themselves.  It can also involve transforming commercially available games into a learning experience. Research shows that both gamification and game-based learning have the potential to promote student engagement and motivation in learning in a variety of disciplines (Pesare et al., 2016). GBL uses competitive exercises, either pitting the students against each other or getting them to challenge themselves to motivate them to learn better.

Storytelling is essential in games and game-based learning and it is the story that provides the context for gameplay.  When using a GBL strategy, it is important for instructors to determine what story they will tell or what story the game will tell, in order to encourage students to connect game-play with the curriculum.

Games often have a fantasy element that engages players in a learning activity through a storyline. In order to create a truly educational game, the instructor needs to make sure that learning or practicing the material is essential to successfully completing the game. Teachers need to work out how to give students points for accomplishing certain goals in a lesson plan and decide on rewards for the winners. Students should receive immediate feedback on their performance from either the game or the instructor along with suggestions on how to improve.

Integration of learning with gaming makes subjects more fun. It can also motivate students to learn, which can have an impact on student engagement. GBL allows students to drill and practice certain skills, knowledge, or behavior by immersing them in a virtual environment (Jan & Gaydos, 2016).  Games can promote logical and critical thinking and the development of social skills, language abilities, communication skills, and creative and problem-solving capabilities (McFarlane et al., 2002). Game-based learning supports pedagogical principles such as:

  • Individualization: The level of the game is tailored on the basis of the player’s abilities.
  • Feedback: Immediate and contextualized feedback is supplied during the game session.
  • Active learning: The game engages the player in active discovery.
  • Motivation: The players are engaged in pursuing a goal.
  • Social: The game is often multiplayer or social.
  • Scaffolding: Players are gradually challenged because they cannot move freely among the game levels.
  • Transfer: The game fosters the ability to transfer learning from the game context to a real context.
  • Assessment: The player can assess the acquired knowledge or skill with other players (Pesare et al., 2016, p. 4).

Questions for Discussion

  1. What does game-based learning mean to you?
  2. What opportunities for using game-based learning do you see in your own organization?
  3. What challenges might you encounter when implementing game-based learning?



Jan, M., & Gaydos, M. (2016). What is game-based learning? Past, present, and future. Educational Technology, 56(3), 6-11.

McFarlane, A., Sparrowhawk, A., & Heald, Y. (2002). Report on the educational use of games: Teachers evaluating educational multimedia. Cambridge.

Pesare, E., Roselli, T., & Corriero, N. (2016). Game-based learning and gamification to promote engagement and motivation in medical learning contexts. Smart Learn. Environ, 3(5). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40561-016-0028-0

Takeuchi, L. M., & Vaala, S. (2014). Level up learning: A national survey on teaching with digital games. New York: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.


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Game Based and Adaptive Learning Strategies by Odbayar Batsaikhan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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