Game-based Learning


In effective teaching, getting the attention and interest of students has always been fundamental need, and keeping that interest an even bigger one. With the ever increasing upsurge of interest on recreational games, some educators may feel threatened in this development; but we don’t have to be. In our quest for a more effective and modern day classroom, we can now ride this development by employing a new and innovative teaching approach – game based learning.

Game based learning describes an approach to teaching, where students explore relevant aspect of games in a learning context designed by teachers. Teachers and students collaborate in order to add depth and perspective to the experience of playing the game.

Within an effective game-based learning environment, we work toward a goal, choosing actions and experiencing the consequences of those actions along the way. We make mistakes in a risk-free setting, and through experimentation, we actively learn and practice the right way to do things. This keeps us highly engaged in practicing behaviors and thought processes that we can easily transfer from the simulated environment to real life. 


Obviously, not all games are suitable for use in the class room environment. Although the main force in games is “fun” and “play”, there is a vast amount of physical and mental variables/activities involved. Which is why in choosing the right game for your class, it would be best to characterize what principles we can follow in gauging a games effect.

Good Game-based Learning Environments

SUBSET PRINCIPLE: Learning, even at its start, takes place in a (simplified) subset of the real domain. it must be a simplified version that omits unimportant details, so that players can focus on aspects of the simulation that are relevant to the learning objective.

Remember Pac-ManThe space ghosts were named Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde. They were red, pink, orange, and cyan. You can’t win at Pac-Man by remembering facts; you win a game by being able to assess phenomena, recognize systems, interpret possibilities, and iterate solutions. The ghosts’ names are decontextualized facts. Playing the game involves systems literacy.

ACTIVE, CRITICAL LEARNING PRINCIPLE: The learning environment must encourage active and critical, not passive, learning. players do not merely watch correct and incorrect examples, followed by a quiz—they actually think, act, experience consequences and pursue goals in a variable game environment.

PROBING PRINCIPLE: Learning is a cycle of probing the world (doing something); reflecting on this action and, on this basis, forming a hypothesis; re-probing the world to test the hypothesis; and then accepting or rethinking the hypothesis. The goal is to find the right course of action via experimentation—making choices and experiencing the consequences.

Remember Space Invaders? Players learned very quickly to hang out at the sides, shooting the approaching aliens before they advance to the next line. The player learns, through trial and error, which responses are most effective, most efficient, and most likely to yield the desired result. In the process, the player becomes intimately acquainted with the system, understanding it comprehensively.

PRACTICE PRINCIPLE: Learners get lots of practice in a context where the practice is not boring (i.e. in a virtual world that is compelling to learners on their own terms and where the learners experience ongoing success). Games gradually increase in difficulty level, this keeps players engaged and encourages them to continually hone their skills.

Another major factor in game based learning is your learning scope and time. Is this game good for one lesson only? Or could I actually use it in the course of the whole curriculum? There are specific games that can satisfy specific needs and time constraint.

Short-form games tend to resemble the kinds of casual smartphone games that even adults tend to fiddle with during idle time. Short-form games tend to work best for learning when they’re focused on a specific skill set or concept.

I personally use these types of games as quizzes or evaluation after the lesson proper. Short games not only end a lesson on a vibrant note, but they also tend to reinforce the student’s interest on the subject. Examples of these games are mini-trivia challenges (tons of choices on app stores) with my favorite being the classroom “Pinoy Henyo” (played on two Android tablets J).

Long-form games tend to be more open-ended and intricate. These games often start simply and expand over time, so they can easily form the backbone of an entire curriculum. In addition, long-form games tend to foster skills like “critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, creativity, and communication.”

CROSSOVER CREATIVE GAME-BASED PLATFORMS can fit into either one of these categories. They are flexible in the way they can be implemented. Teachers can create short one-time simulation-based assignments, or longer multi-period projects.

After establishing your time frame, you can then choose form a variety of game genres available.


Puzzlers are probably the most familiar kind of game. They involve identifying a pattern or system and arranging objects according to a certain set of rules.

Ex: Tetris, Solitaire, Sudoku

DRILL AND PRACTICE. All video games, like puzzlers, are about pattern recognition. And once the player understands the pattern, the challenge comes from either more intricate puzzles (more complicated levels), or from changing the speed or circumstances in which the player needs to solve the puzzle.

STRATEGY GAME. When developers add compounding puzzles to be solved through a series of moves. Strategy games are also often multiplayer. And when it comes to learning games, it’s common for them to be focused on history. When students control the armies, key moments in geopolitics suddenly feel substantially more dynamic than just a chronological account of battles.

Ex: Historia – core curriculum aligned, social studies simulation and strategy game.

ROLE-PLAYING GAMES. Strategy games that ask players to embody individual characters.

Ex: “Mission US: Cheyenne Odyssey” – players become Little Fox, a Northern Cheyenne boy whose life is changed by the encroachment of white settlers, railroads, and U.S. military expeditions from 1866 and 1876.

SANDBOX GAMES. Games that offer a world of experience without clear objectives.

Ex: MinecraftEdu – a pixelated world of blocks that users manipulate with tools — plus the ability to add customizable maps, educators can drop students into a world of ancient cultures, Chemistry, English, and more.

These genres mentioned highly encompass digital games, but they are not exactly exclusive to virtual mediums. Despite the abundance and availability of digital games, we are not restricted to them and I highly encourage the integration of physical or manual games as well. Numerous times have I employed the use of simple “buzzer” and “dice-roll” games to my classes (where participants need to run towards a buzzer to answer trivia questions and rolls a dice after to get either rewards or losses Smile); and I have never seen them have so much fun.

Practical Steps to Get Started

Step 1: Assess Your Resources

What platforms do you have available in your class? Is yours a BYOD (bring your own device) classroom, or do you have school-owned hardware to work with?

This is especially true to the Philippine context where our resources are not yet standardized and sometimes even insufficient. Use what you have. Games need not be to be high-tech to be fun.

Step 2: Find Games

Once you know what kind of hardware you have at your disposal, you can begin to search for games. But you probably already know from trying to find apps for your smartphone that searching the Google Play Store or the iOS App store can be overwhelming.

Graphite — a crowd-sourced, teacher-sourced site full of listings and ratings of educational apps and games.

Step 3: Play Games

The goal is not just to add games; it is to integrate learning games into existing curricula. It means investigating the world of the game and feeling the frustration, flow, and fiero that goes along with playing it. When you engage with the game, you not only try to see the game from the perspective of your students, you also understand how the game presents the material.

Step 4: See How Others Do It

Get an idea of what other teachers are doing with games in the classroom.

Ex: Teaching with Games: Video Case Studies


Step 5: Find Support

For more general support and resources, there are a number of websites cropping up specifically for the purpose of providing teachers with resources around ed-tech.

Playful Learning and Educade. Both are full of articles, videos, and other resources that can help you think of creative ways to integrate games into your teaching.