What is Game-Based Learning? Pt. 1

a.k.a. laying the foundation.

Google gives the following definitions:

  • Game-based learning is a field of research and game design based on observations that play, structured or unstructured, conditions the human brain for transformation and learning. (Wikipedia)
  • A form of learner-centred learning that uses electronic games for educational purposes. (from Wee Hoe Tan‘s research glossary on the Warwick University website)

So it is a field of research and design as well as a form of learner-centred learning. Actually I like Wee’s definition quite much. I would add that it is not necessary to use just electronic (or digital) games or just games to qualify as game-based learning. The defining factor to me is that the use of games is an important factor in the learning process and environment.

There are a number of examples of game-based learning (GBL from now on), games used to support learner-centred learning and reports of use of game-based learning in authentic learning settings. I’ll outline a few as examples of GBL:

Business schools have used business games as part of the education for dozens of years. One of the state-of-the-art business games is the RealGame, developed by Timo Lainema. RealGame is a business simulation game to support learning of decision making in the environment of managing a manufacturing company. Realgame has mainly been used by large and middle-sized Finnish companies as well as several universities as a part of their management training programs.

RealGame casts the players as managers of a manufacturing business. The game provides a real-time simulation of the operating environment of the business in question. The players make decisions as managers and get real-time feedback on how their decisions affect the company. The game can be tailored to simulate different kinds of markets.

RealGame provides the players’ an experience of making management decisions and getting feedback of their consequences. The simulation works in real time so the players can adjust their strategies on the fly.

It is important to see that the game provides learning experiences in at least two levels. The first, self-evident one is the simulation environment allowing the players to practice performing the duties of their future occupations. It is important to notice that in this function the representation that the simulation provides and its verisimilitude to the ral-life environment is important.

The other way of producing learning experiences is experiencing the simulation environment itself and critiquing its verisimilitude. Every simulation is a subjective representation of reality. The aspects (units) of the simulation make statements on the world (Ian Bogost’s book Unit Operations deals with this perception). Through experiencing the game the players can assess the representation provided by it and contrast it with the relevant theory they have studied and case studies from the field.

The first type of learning occurs predominantly within the game but the latter one involves contrasting and discussing the experience of gameplay with other presentations of the same phenomena. It is to be noted that although GBL focuses on the use of games to support learning, playing games is not the be-all and end-all of learning activity in the model.

This concludes the first part of this on-going introduction to game-based learning. There’s too much to say to fit it in just one article, so I’ll continue describing the field of GBL through other examples in later articles.

One thought on “What is Game-Based Learning? Pt. 1

  1. What if the process or system that we all use (society and our economy) WERE / ARE games? My claim is that they are. Since these systems were and are human-created, why else would we be doing what we are doing if it weren’t for fun and the game of it? Are there any systems that work well (without coercive force) that don’t have a game-like nature at their core? I would guess not. Even those sytems that are coervice are still games…just with really high stakes.

    The change we need to bring about, then, is to make life and our systems/communities a fun, productive game for ALL…not just those who are advantaged and in the know…

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