Define: Game Based Learning

Learning with Games or Gamify Learning

Begin the "Define" section by reflecting on what you know and want to know about this "Thing."

Using game elements in learning is a powerful method of increasing student engagement.  In this "Thing," we will introduce you to the pedagogy and tools to bring this type of learning to your classroom.

Learning Objectives

  • Know the features of game-based learning
  • Understand how to incorporate multiple tools to support existing classroom management practices
  • Connect game-based learning to teaching practice
  • Transfer the learning to real-world application
  • Click on each title below to see detailed information.

    To start, familiarize yourself with the following terms and ideas for using game elements in your practice.

    Game-Based Learning - the use of computer, video, and out of the box games as well as student and teacher created games specifically aimed to produce learning outcomes and/or as assessments

    Gamification - the process of adding game-like elements to something (such as a task) so as to encourage participation

    Digital Badge - an indicator of accomplishment or skill that can be displayed, accessed, and verified online

    Quest - the search to find something or achieve a goal

    Virtual Reality - an artificial environment which is experienced through sensory stimuli provided by a computer and in which one's actions partially determine what happens in the environment

    Augmented Reality - an enhanced version of reality created by the use of technology to overlay digital information on an image of something being viewed through a device (such as a smartphone camera)

    Now that you have an understanding of the terminology, move on to the next section - Learn It.

    What is Game-Based Learning?

    Game-based learning “involves the use of computer and video games specifically aimed to produce learning outcomes. It is designed to balance subject matter and gameplay, and later assesses the ability of the learner to retain and apply the acquired knowledge to real-world scenarios.”

    Game-based learning environments, allow students to choose actions that assist them to achieve learning goals. While they may make mistakes and may face consequences of the actions they chose, students are motivated to continue the challenge in the risk-free setting of a game environment. In this setting “failures become challenges,” and students strategize to achieve goals and learn in the process.

    7 Reasons to Try Out Game-Based Learning

    For more information, read John Spencer's blog - "Seven Reasons to Pilot a Game-Based Learning Unit" and/or watch his video.  Select the image below to view/listen.

    Features of Game-Based Learning

    Competition - provides motivation and encourages students to engage in learning and finish the lesson. The competition can be with other students in class but it can also be with students in other classes, against game characters or environments, or with achieving a personal goal.

    Engagement - Making learning fun and allowing students to develop their own strategies for completing tasks, increases engagement. This also takes the pressure off of the learner and improves learning performance.

    Immediate Rewards - Rewards help a student stay invested in the learning process and keeps motivates them to continue until they reach the learning goal. A reward can be tied to each learning goal and can be built in stages and set according to difficulty.

    Immediate Reinforcement and Feedback - Feedback can be instantaneous and scoring can be standardized to allow students to learn from mistakes as they go. This allows students to learn faster and feel confident as they continue learning.


    Non-Digital Game-Based Learning

    Classroom Management

    Game elements can also be used as an incentive to improve and reinforce positive classroom behaviors. Instead of giving points and badges for learning content, programs like Class Dojo can do the same to assist with classroom management, to track behavior, and share information with parents.


    There are several tools with game elements to assess student learning. Using games for formative assessment allows for teachers to gauge student understanding and to adjust, inform, and plan instruction. These tools are engaging and fun for students, but many also can be used to to review information for mastery.

    These are some digital resources to help - Plickers can be used in classrooms without devices available for every student. While Kahoot, Quizizz, and Quizalize can be used from student’s mobile devices. Quizlet can be used by students to self assess or review.  For more information see Thing 19.

    For unplugged assessment, you might consider having your students create their own game formulated with the content standards/objectives.

    Review more information and apps through Common Sense Media

    Game-Based Learning vs. Gamification

    Game-based and gamification are not exactly the same thing, but are often used interchangeably. Both are used in classrooms to engage students and improve student learning although Game-Based learning does not always require technology to use game elements for engagement. Learn more about the differences by reading "The Difference Between Gamification and Game-Based Learning" by ASCD and watching this video.

    Now that you have an understanding of using gaming in your practice, move on to the next section - Try It.

    Blended Gamified Learning - Battle of the Big Ideas

    Many lessons can be enhanced by incorporating a Gamified component.  The Battle of the Big Ideas is an example of what can happen when a social studies (humanities) lesson meets fantasy football.  This lesson was presented at the ISTE Conference 2020 by Batsheva Frankel.  View this video to get a quick overview of the lesson. 

    Virtual Game-Based Learning - Minecraft

    Minecraft started out as a game that kids flocked to for creating digital worlds and fighting Creepers. Then Microsoft acquired Minecraft and created Minecraft Education Edition. MinecraftEdu is a game-based learning platform that promotes creativity, collaboration, and problem-solving in an immersive digital environment.

    Watch the following video to learn how the classroom looks with Minecraft Education Edition.  Select the image below to view/listen.

    Minecraft Education Edition has a free limited version that can be used before purchase. It is not a free tool, but we still wanted to highlight it because it is such a powerful learning tool. The cost is $5 per student per year and can be used with students that have a Microsoft Office 365 account.

    If you are not sure where to get started, review these helpful sources:


    Quests, which are common in games, can be used to engage learners by using choice-based learning.  For a deeper understanding, read Understanding Quest-Based Learning by Chris Haskell, ED.D.

    Quests contain questlines which are learning pathways that are both personalized and differentiated. In a lesson plan, questlines resemble an upside-down tree. They start with limited choices which then branch outward with more choices. Choices are scaffolded so students don’t get overwhelmed. You can start small. If you convert a project-based learning lesson into missions and create a theme that matches the lesson. You can start with instruction and then give students choices to demonstrate learning.

    Try ClassCraft; it has a basic free version, but you can create a quest with other tools. Quests rely on a structure that can be created in a LMS or in a linked document.

    Digital Badging

    A digital badge is an indicator of accomplishment or skill that can be displayed, accessed, and verified online. They can be earned in a wide variety of ways and environments, but in a game-based learning environment, can be an incentive to students to accomplish learning goals.

    Watch "What is a Badge" to gain a better understanding of badges.

    Many Learning Management Systems have badging built into their platforms. Schoology, Blackboard, and Moodle all have badging included. Google Classroom and Microsoft Teams also have the capability for badging available through their available apps.

    To learn more ways to use badging in your class, read "We Need More Stinkin Badges" or the Educational Badges Wiki.

    You can use Open Badges, Badgr, or Credly to create and assign badges to students. You can also make badges in Google Drawings to print for your students or to copy into your LMS.  This video explains how.  Select the image below to view/listen.

    Other Resources

    This is the last section of "Thing" 18's Define playlist. Now would be a great time to revisit your Reflection Document and think about what you learned in this "Thing." Capture a screenshot of your results from the Knowledge Check and post them in your Reflection Document. As you move forward, consider the following: How might you use this in your own professional practice? What goals might you set for yourself, including activities, timelines, and evaluation? What connections did you make to the ISTE Standards or your own content area standards? How will you monitor your own progress towards these goals? Then proceed to the next section.

    Additional Resources  

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