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The Benefits of Game-based Learning

In a time disturbed by COVID-19, the exploration of digital learning tools has become an essential strategy for keeping students engaged while socially distanced. Although game-based learning (GBL) is not a new concept, the benefits of digital game-based learning are more apparent than ever. 

Game-based learning and gamification have been shown to increase student engagement, foster social-emotional learning, and motivate students to take risks. So what exactly is game-based learning and gamification? How do games help students become active participants in their learning process? We will cover those questions and more in this article on digital game-based learning. 

What is Game-Based Learning? 

Game-based learning uses games as a vessel for learning, but it’s about more than just having fun and scoring points: it’s a research-based practice used to enhance instruction, cultivate collaboration, and meet specific learning goals. GBL can be implemented in person or online, but due to the need for social distancing, we are seeing more digital game-based learning platforms used in curricula. 

Two of the most popular digital games among today’s students are Roblox and Minecraft. Surely these video games can’t be good for kids, right? Wrong! A 2013 study found that users who played video games for 30 minutes a day over a two-month period showed an increase in grey matter compared to those who did not partake in the games. The increase in grey matter was found in the areas of the brain involved in spatial navigation, memory formation, fine motor skills of the hands, and strategic planning. 

Games like Minecraft and Roblox allow students to use coding skills in order to create and modify gaming experiences. Nitrotype.com is a worldwide, gamified typing competition that allows students to race cars while practicing typing speed and accuracy. 

Before we get into the details about the benefits of digital game-based learning and how you can implement GBL and gamification in your classroom, let’s define gamification and see what sets it apart from game-based learning.


What is Gamification? 

Game-based learning is the term used to describe the implementation of games to reach specific learning outcomes. This could look like board games in the classroom, role-play games, or digital gaming platforms. Gamification, on the other hand, is the use of gaming elements such as point systems, leaderboards, and rewards to create a more engaging learning experience. 

In the classroom, gamification can be identified in student badges for mastery of a topic, timed activities, or the separation of students into teams. Gamification is used to make traditional teaching strategies more engaging for students, whereas GBL uses games that have defined rules, settings, and characters to help students learn new concepts and practice soft skills. 


The Benefits of Digital Game-Based Learning 

Research from Routledge explores the many ways in which GBL benefits students. The benefits are bountiful; here are some honorable mentions. 


  • Motivation: Games use incentive structures to keep players engaged. Examples of these structures are stars, points, trophies, level advancement, and badges. Low-stakes competition gives students the opportunity to practice taking risks, analyze mistakes, and make second attempts to succeed. 


  • Social-Emotional Learning: Characters and settings engage students emotionally while collaborative features allow for the development of social skills. As learners partake in various games, they develop self-awareness and self-control which are integral aspects of social-emotional learning. Students also work in teams, practice verbal and nonverbal communication skills, and learn to disagree, strategize, and achieve a goal. 


  • Personalized Learning: A great thing about games like Roblox and Minecraft are their capacity for personalized learning. In order for games to provide meaningful learning experiences, the games must align with the player’s level of knowledge, cognitive abilities, and other variables. Nitro Type allows teachers to track students’ activity, run reports, and control site settings from a teacher dashboard. 


  • The Art of Failure: Failing is a skill students ought to learn. How do you become good at failing? The art of failure relies on the student’s ability to learn from their mistakes and correct their behavior. In game-based learning activities, students expect to fail—it’s a natural part of the game. The practice of failing, learning, and correcting gives students the opportunity to master the art of failure without negative consequences. 


  • Strategic Thinking & Problem Solving: When students partake in strategic games, such as chess, they analyze the situation and make decisions based on strategic plans. These are skills that are sharpened in the majority of GBL platforms, as most games require the player to accomplish a specific task despite obstacles. The skills students exercise to reach a new level or earn points in digital games will carry over to real-life situations. 


How to Implement Game-Based Learning  in Your Classroom

So far, we have made a strong case for implementing game-based learning and gamification in the classroom; but this doesn’t mean you can just download some apps and call it a day. The key to successful GBL is defining the learning outcome: what do you want your students to learn during their gaming experience? 

Depending on your class, you might have a variety of different learning outcomes based on the differences among your students. Once you’ve decided on your desired learning outcomes, you’re ready to start exploring the world of gaming. 

Be sure to test out all of the games you plan on using in the classroom. You want to have a solid understanding of how the game works so that you can assist students who have never played before. Testing the game beforehand gives you the opportunity to ensure the game is of high quality and aligns with your learning goals. What makes a game of high quality? Here are some things to look for: 


Intuitiveness: Students should be focused on applying knowledge and skills to different challenges, not the specifics of how the game works. Look for games that are easy to use and avoid spending valuable time struggling with how the game works.

Multimodal Content: Support your students’ diverse learning styles by choosing games that provide content in a variety of ways, using elements such as music, videos, images, movement, and mazes to engage players. 

Content Levels: Find games that adapt to the player’s skill level. This ensures that the whole class can participate despite varying levels of skills. 

Teacher Control: Plenty of educational games allow teachers to control certain aspects of the game. The ability to adjust settings for individual players is a huge plus and will help you personalize the game for each student. 


Back to School with Game-based Learning  

Going back to school this year is going to look different for each class. Some will continue learning online, some will be in-person full time, and some will find themselves in flipped or blended classrooms. The great thing about digital game-based learning is that it can be utilized in any one of these situations. 

Now more than ever it’s crucial to take advantage of the wonders of educational technology. Even as students return to school, it’s likely there will be times when social distancing and even isolation are necessary. Prepare your students to be successful in any learning environment by introducing and implementing game-based learning. 

Not only does GBL keep students engaged in their learning process, but it also keeps students connected and fosters a sense of community—even when we are isolated. 


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