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Game-Based Learning

Game-Based Learning (GBL) includes immersive experiences often incorporating the scaffolding of progressive achievements, competitive elements, and/or developing storylines. GBL has been tied both to achievement and to the development of new literacies (Marcon, 2013). A related term, gamification, typically refers to the inclusion of some game elements in a non-game setting, such as leaderboards, scenarios, teams, choose your own adventure elements, etc.  This infographic from ASCD further demonstrates the difference between these two concepts. Research has highlighted the potential of games to enhance student learning (Clark, Tanner-Smith, & Killingsworth, 2016; Hamari, Shernoff, Rowe, Coller, Asbell-Clarke, & Edwards, 2016; Merchant, Goetz, Cifuentes, Keeney-Kennicutt, & Davis, 2012). 

To integrate game-based learning into your course, Teed (2014) recommends considering the following steps:  

  1. Define objectives – What do you want the students to learn? 
  2. Decide what sort of game and storyline to use – Will it be team-based? Does it incorporate simulation? Is it competitive? 
  3. Break objectives down into challenges – Are there multiple levels of challenge? Are challenges task-based? How will "success" be measured?   
  4. Design a reward system – Should students be intrinsically motivated? If they are not, are there extrinsic motivators? Is it tied to grade (if so, handle with care)? 
  5. Build the game – It can take some time to work out the rules of play and develop related resources like game boards, java applets, character descriptions, etc. 
  6. Test the game – Multiple rounds of testing will be important. In addition to pre- and post-tests determining if the game aids learning objectives, you may want to consider crafting evaluations of engagement, ease, time, etc. with your testers. 
  7. Run the game – You may want to consider balancing membership, in the case of teams, for experience and skill set. 

Additional resources

Readings related to game-based learning design 

Sample tools for gamification 

Game-based learning at CMU 


Clark, D. B., Tanner-Smith, E. E., & Killingsworth, S. S. (2016). Digital games, design, and learning: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 86(1), 79-122. 

Hamari, J., Shernoff, D. J., Rowe, E., Coller, B., Asbell-Clarke, J., & Edwards, T. (2016). Challenging games help students learn: An empirical study on engagement, flow, and immersion in game-based learning. Computers in Human Behavior, 54, 170-179. 

Marcon, N. (2013). 'Minecraft' as a powerful literacy prompt in the secondary English classroom. Idiom, 49(2), 35. 

Merchant, Z., Goetz, E. T., Cifuentes, L., Keeney-Kennicutt, W., & Davis, T. J. (2012). Effectiveness of virtual reality-based instruction on students' learning outcomes in K-12 and higher education: A meta-analysis. Computers & Education, 70, 29-40.