General Education

What is Game-Based Learning?

What is Game-Based Learning?
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Matthew Creegan February 8, 2019

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Teachers have always struggled to hold the attention of their classrooms for prolonged periods of time.

Making paper airplanes and passing notes in class was a typical way of breaking up the monotony of a boring lecture or seminar. But today, students can easily turn their attention from the blackboard to their iPhones—keeping themselves entertained with the endless games and apps at their disposal— forcing teachers to find new and effective ways to keep students engaged.

Many educators, from elementary to university levels, turn to educational games to facilitate learning by holding students’ attention in class. Game-based learning has had an increasingly prominent presence in classrooms since at least the 1980s, with the advent of children’s computer software. Games such as Math Blaster, Carmen Sandiego, and the Oregon Trail have been popular with elementary school-aged children for nearly three decades.

Game-Based Learning vs. Gamification

Game-based learning is not the same as gamification, which is applying the rules and elements of a game to an activity that would otherwise not be a game. Teachers can “gamify” test taking in classrooms by awarding a prize to the top scorer, or splitting the class up into teams.

Gamification creates an incentive for students to complete tasks via rewards or competition. The gamification of tasks is used to encourage participation and engagement. It’s utilized not only by educators, but in business as well, rewarding employee contributions and customer loyalty using point systems and programs.

Game-based learning uses a game or activity that incorporates the fundamentals of a subject being taught in class for students to participate in. Games can be real-life or virtual, single or multiplayer, played a single time or ongoing.

Game-based learning in the classroom

Nicole Walters, a first grade teacher for P.S.M.S. 3 in the Bronx, N.Y., says that game-based learning is an extremely helpful tool for her students. “It’s easier when they’re younger, especially now that they’re technologically savvy,” Walters said.

Younger students that have grown up in the digital age are more familiar with technology than ever, which may make it challenging for teachers who are in competition for their students’ attention with electronic devices.

“Kids learn so much better when they’re having fun,” Walters said. “It can be a simple game like a crossword or a complex multiplayer video game, but you want them to be interacting and participating.”

The point of these games is to have students practice what they are learning in class. Walters says that the games have to be meaningful and connected to what the instructor is teaching; otherwise, they’re not going to stick.

Games aren’t for every subject, or student

“I don’t think it works for everything. But I think it works for things that are meant to be taught hands on, like math,” Kristina Lubeski, a literacy aid for Branford Public Schools in Connecticut, said. She added that for subjects such as reading, students have to learn fundamental skills, comprehension, and fluency, “so you don’t really play games with that,” Lubeski said.

“Technology and game based learning go hand in hand and it works wonderfully,” Lubeski said. But it’s not a catchall for students or subjects. Sometimes the older, less exciting methods of teaching are better. “It can work for some classes and not others. So you have to know who’s in your class and what works for them.”

Making time for play

Since the Common Core standards were implemented in late 2012, teachers have been required to adjust their teaching methods and revamp curricula to keep up with states’ latest standards, which doesn’t incorporate much game playing into its touchstones. Ms. Walters says that this can pose a challenge for teachers who like to incorporate game-based learning into their lesson plans; sometimes it might not make the cut.

“With the Common Core, there’s not much time for play. They’ve taken the play-based learning out of it. There’s not a lot of wiggle room,” Walters said. “You have to take a look at your materials, and there’s a lot of deciding on our own time if it’s worth it in the end.”


Nicole Walters- phone interview 2/11/15

Kristina Lubeski- Phone interview 2/12/15

Davis, V. (2014, March 20). Gamification in Education. Retrieved February 24, 2015, from

The Gamification of Education Infographic #gamification #edtech. (2012, January 1). Retrieved February 24, 2015, from

Burke, B. (2014, August 6). How to Gamify Innovation. Retrieved February 24, 2015, from


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