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What is game-based learning?



Game-based learning (GBL) describes an approach to teaching, where students explore relevant aspects of games in a learning context designed by teachers.  The methodology uses competitive exercises which either pits students against each other, or enables them to challenge themselves, motivating them to learn better. Games often have a fantasy element that engages players in a learning environment through a story line. Teachers and students collaborate in order to add depth and perspective to the experience of playing the game.

With an effective game-based learning environment, participants work towards a goal, choosing actions and exploring the consequences of those actions along the way. They make mistakes in a risk-free setting and. through experimentation, actively learn and practice the right way to do things. This keeps them highly engaged in practicing behaviours and thought processes that they can easily transfer from the simulated environment to real life.

Why GBL?

GBL has been developed in response to the challenges faced by traditional teaching methods in the information age. Traditional methods of teaching are essentially passive ways of acquiring knowledge. Students listen and take notes, but rarely get the chance to actively engage and get involved with the content. Apart from a few legendary figures like Richard Feynman, who popularised the Feynman technique which is a method for learning or reviewing a concept quickly by explaining it in plain, simple language, few teachers have the ability, or even the willingness, to prepare their lessons in any format except the tried and trusted way.

Games, on the other hand, are intrinsically engaging. With a little creativity, lessons can be taught as a game, which gives students the opportunity to search for the necessary information themselves. They can be great motivators for students, making hitherto dry and boring subjects like mathematics come to life, whilst honing their learning ability. Sites and online resources like Mathletics, which is devoted to helping children gain excellent arithmetic skills through fun games and tools, and Reading Eggs an online program that helps them to read, leverage students’ cognitive skills and confidence level.

Learning becomes not only a constant, but also an interesting activity.  The essence of game based learning is that it is competitive, interactive and fun filled. Without competition we are not motivated to learn. It is this which leads to engagement, with the expectation of being rewarded at the end of a lesson.

Furthermore, students can learn at their own pace with GBL, with the teacher monitoring their progress and ensuring that they are sticking to the syllabus or lesson plan.

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The role of Learning software

Traditional teaching methods rely primarily on examinations as a means of testing students and evaluating their progress. However, these can be time consuming, difficult to administer and error prone. They favour students who are good “exam takers” over those who thrive better under different test conditions. However, the most important drawback is that a poor mark in an exam can demotivate and discourage students.

Learning software, by contrast, adopts a flexible and more effective approach. Not only does it offer a superior marking and feedback mechanism but also provides analytics which help teachers better understand a student’s true performance, not just in terms of marks or scores achieved.  The most beneficial aspect, however, is that students are rewarded with instant feedback, and even the most minor progress is acknowledged. By earning points, certificates and rewards, students enjoy learning and are motivated to try harder. This is especially true for subjects like Mathematics, which may be so challenging for some that they struggle to make any substantial progress.

The efficacy of GBL software is that it acknowledges that not all students are the same when it comes to grasping and assimilating knowledge. Lessons are designed in such a way that they are tailored to the individual skill level of the learner. If you do not succeed first time with a game, there is no need to be discouraged or downhearted. Just try again until you do succeed. By following the “learning through games” model, students have fun, and learning is a happy by-product.

Problem solving skills

With abstract topics like Mathematics or Statistics which do not seem to have a real life application, students rarely get a chance to learn problem solving skills. GBL software addresses this issue directly by setting a series of challenges and tasks which develop and channel problem solving skills.

Group Of High School Students Running Along Corridor

Learning by Simulation

Learning through games and role play is an established practice when subjects like Management, of disciplines like Strategy, are taught. Many Business Schools use simulation as a means of teaching topics like Marketing, where opportunities to learn on the job may be limited.

However, it should not be construed that learning by this method is applicable only in higher education, as it can also be highly effective for students at elementary and high school level too. In fact, GBL has proved to work very well with young children also, catering to their natural curiosity to know and ask questions, as well as developing problem solving skills at a very young age.

Game based learning and video games

There is a difference between games which have been developed for learning in the classroom and the development of cognitive skills, and video games which have been developed primarily for entertainment purposes and the gaming market. That is not to say that a game like Minecraft is not useful for teaching survival skills, or the basic elements of strategy. But they are designed for the classroom, and there is no facility for a teacher to step in and become a facilitator and mentor. Therefore, as a teacher your responsibility is to choose a range of games that offer students the ability to learn by themselves, but with you acting as a guide, stepping in when necessary and ensuring that the core elements of a curriculum are covered.


GBL as a teaching methodology is here to stay because it offers a fundamentally new way of knowledge transference that is in line with modern ways that students learn and develop new skills. It not only makes learning a continual experience, but adds a necessary element of fun to it, motivating students to try harder and learn more.