What is Educational Gaming?


The interest in educational gaming has accelerated considerably in recent years, driven by clear successes in military and industrial training. The US military, in particular, is using games and simulations to refine skills across the range of their training needs, from basic training to field medicine, to IED removal, to advanced operational strategies. Developers and researchers are working in every area of educational gaming, including games that are goal-oriented; social game environments; non-digital games that are easy to construct and play; games developed expressly for education; and commercial games that lend them selves to refining team and group skills. At the low end of game technology, there are literally thousands of ways games can be applied in learning contexts. Role-playing and other forms of simulated experiences have broad applicability across a wide range of disciplines, and are another rich area for exploration.

Still a few years away, but increasingly interesting, is the notion of creating massively multiplayer online (MMO) games expressly for learning, along the lines of games created for entertainment (e.g. World of Warcraft) or for both training and entertainment, such as America’s Army, created by the US military. MMOs bring many players together in activities that require them to work together to solve problems; they can be collaborative or competitive. They are often goal-oriented in ways that tie to a storyline or theme, but high levels of play often require outside learning and discovery. What makes this category of games especially compelling and effective is the multiple ways participants can be engaged — with other players, with the “back story,” in social contexts, and more — and the time they are willing to spend on task pursing the goals of the games.


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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • Educational gaming (MMOs) can advance student learning in the areas of content, 21st Century Skills, media creation and systems thinking.- jan.morrison jan.morrison Feb 3, 2010. Agreed, especially in their ability to be collaborative learners - horncheah horncheah Feb 5, 2010
  • I feel like this might have already tipped, but probably not. 21 Century Learning Skills, stem, games as a form of youth media, and career readiness.
  • helps to get schools thinking in terms of learning not just dedicated to the 6 hr school day. Obviously at my elem school, any way we can engage students we need to.- rob.ackerman rob.ackerman Feb 5, 2010
  • Besides all that has been said, I would add that games teach students to persist, as they can only go to the next level after conquering all the challenges of the level they are at. - cristiana.mattos cristiana.mattos Feb 6, 2010
  • I think games are excellent in subjects and projects where it is necessary to engage the students and where real-life situations can be simulated.- oystein.johannessen oystein.johannessen Feb 7, 2010 Educational games exist along a whole spectrum, some of which are already mainstream. It's hard to talk about them because everyone brings their own mental model to the conversation, and often it's focused on video games alone. Simulations are an excellent way to bring games into the classroom. - ninmah ninmah Feb 8, 2010
  • The evidence in favour of games in school is building up but the tipping point is some way away still. Time to stop calling them games maybe? Treat them as part of the learning environment alongside other resources otherwise they simply arouse hostility in some quarters. - roger.blamire roger.blamire Feb 9, 2010
  • I think there is more hype than reality concerning the educational use of electronic games such as MMO in schools. I think we can intellectualise the benefits of such games in terms of setting goals, working in teams, problem-solving, sifting and sorting information and so on - but as to seeing these games being formally used in schools - I think that's the exception rather than the rule - although empirical evidence here would be useful. Perhaps if we think of these games (eg MMOs) being similar to teaching young people how to play football or baseball in sports class. These physical games are taught in schools because of their cultural value ie they are important sports in the general community, to build skill capability, to build capabilities important in leisure pursuits and to teach students how to do the more dangerous
maneuvers in safe ways - and they build students' capabilities in working in teams etc etc - same as for MMO. We generally don't try to over-extend sports lessons though to teaching other discipline knowledge. We simply accept that teaching sports in a valuable activity in itself and generally hope that the generic skills of problem-solving etc learnt through playing sports will spill over into other subjects. I think there are some corollaries here concerning the use of electronic educational gaming in schools.- kathryn.moyle kathryn.moyle Feb 9, 2010
  • Through our own research we've learnt that there are a multitude of ways that games and play can find a place in teaching and informal learning, just as there are many different types of game - and many types of gamer. We're seeing signs that the hype cycle is settling down, from the evangelism of a few years ago, to the resistance and disappointment we sometimes encounter amongst people who have had games oversold to them as a radical technology, to an environment where a more balanced view is possible: it's true that there's nothing magical about games as learning tools, but equally there's huge potential to embed new pedagogies within their processes and make them more than just carriers for content.- stephen.breslin stephen.breslin Feb 10, 2010
  • Here is another article by Robert Marsano in educational Leadership, "Using Games to Enhance Student Achievement". http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership.aspx
  • There are some great resources about serious games in an education context on Clark Aldrich's website. He has a storied history with games and simulations in both the military and department of defense and is now spending most of his time focusing on gaming for learning http://clarkaldrich.blogspot.com - don.henderson don.henderson Feb 22, 2010

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • Perhaps that educational gaming does not single handedly teach content?- jan.morrison jan.morrison Feb 3, 2010 - ninmah ninmah Feb 8, 2010
  • It is probably important to recognise that the use of games need to match the learning profile of students, and be mindful of the time needed to acquire specific skills/knowledge compared to other approaches. - horncheah horncheah Feb 5, 2010
  • The use of games need not be standalones. It could be combined with other approaches where appropriate, eg. have the teacher consolidate and make students reflect on what they learn within the gaming space - horncheah horncheah Feb 5, 2010
  • I wouldn't oversell MMO nor undersell the growth of game design (scratch, alice, gamebuilder, gamestar mechanic, spoodle, and fidgit). Also, there is a rise we see if games designed to address social issues. Also, I would mention using games to teach stem and to develop 21st Century Literacy skills by becoming critical game players. - bjoseph bjoseph Feb 5, 2010
  • A side of the use of educational games that is often overlooked is that in order to utilise educational games in the classroom, the school and its management need to ensure sufficient flexibility in the schedule, because the use of educational games is not very compatible with a strict/fixed schedule with e.g. 45 minutes time slots. - oystein.johannessen oystein.johannessen Feb 7, 2010
  • There should be some effort to distinguish between good games and bad ones; just because a game uses educational content, it may not be worthwhile or fun or effective. Conversely, games that don't look educational on the surface can sometimes be very effective. - ninmah ninmah Feb 8, 2010
  • Children are of course big users of games outside school. From an early age however they spot disguised games, learning dressed up as play, and dislike them and the people conning them. We found this in our work on the impact of technology in primary schools in Europe (http://steps.eun.org ). - roger.blamire roger.blamire Feb 9, 2010
  • If electronic games are to be used to assist the development of discipline knowledge as well as generic skills, then a cross-matching or mapping of desired curriculum content objectives and the nature of the games in mind, would be useful. eg identfying what discipline objectives a game such as FoodForce can achieve. There is considerable room for teacher development in how to think about and use electronic games in their classroom activities. - kathryn.moyle kathryn.moyle Feb 9, 2010
  • It's important to remember that we wouldn't talk about "books" in the same way as we do "games" - there are good games and bad ones, ones that adults appreciate more and some that suit seven-year-olds, some published by small independent firms and others published by multinational firms. Some game designs will suit content-based formal learning, other forms will suit informal or exploratory learning. They aren't all good or all bad. The casual game and indie game arena are worth paying attention to as much as the more visible MMOs, though as other commentators have highlighted, these are easier to "sell" as simulations- stephen.breslin stephen.breslin Feb 10, 2010

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on teaching, learning, or creative expression?

  • A couple of thoughts that may well apply to most of the key technologies we are looking at as relates to identifying critical challenges to making technology choices. 1. Educators get stuck. If you have a one on one conversation about (for example) lack of student engagement in learning and explain all the reasons we need new pedagogy to engage students you will not be met with disagreement. It is likely the educator will support what is said. But, with everything we are currently calling upon staff to do (i.e. meet AYP) they do not have the time and energy to invest in new teaching practices (which includes the use of new technologies, challenge based learning, 21st century skills, etc.). 2. Are you familiar with the work of James H. Gilmore, author of The Experience Economy and Authenticity? He talks about people craving the experience, about wanting to be the experience, not just see the experience. These technologies are taking us to that dimension. Educators and policy makers need to let education go toward this dimension and embrace these applications for learning instead of continuing practice as usual.- jan.morrison jan.morrison Feb 3, 2010
  • I see the use of games as 'only' one of various 'tools' that a teacher can choose from to appropriately use for teaching and learning. It's main attraction lies in its ability to attract and engage students in activities that lead to learning. However, the pitfalls include potentially excessive use of time to do the learning, and the potential loss of the learning objectives. When use appropriately, it can be a powerful tool. I have come across a pilot study which uses games to help build the inquiry process, requiring the participants to observe, hypothesize & test their ideas. The learning was not the content, although that was an incidental outcome, but the process of inquiry. In general, the use of games will require very well constructed processes (not just within the gaming space) to ensure that learning takes place. - horncheah horncheah Feb 5, 2010
  • It moves youth from media consumers to creators in a place where they have traditionally and technologically been shut out. It models better learning than most experience in the classroom. it challenges the notion of when and where learning occurs. It foregrounds interest-driven learning. - bjoseph bjoseph Feb 5, 2010
  • Besides all that has been said, I would add that for a game to be used effectively in conjunction with other teaching strategies, it has be be accessed from home as well as from school. I have found that the most effective uses of games we've had were those that we could make available to kids at home. So in the short time we had in the classroom, we would go to a certain level. Then the kids could complete the game all they wanted at home. We got a very positive response to that. Kids loved being able to finish the games without the time constraints of the bell ringing. And it does teach all the skills mentioned already. - cristiana.mattos cristiana.mattos Feb 6, 2010
  • There is some evidence suggesting that educational games are particularly useful when they stimulate the autonomy of the learner.- oystein.johannessen oystein.johannessen Feb 7, 2010
  • At European Schoolnet we have gathered the evidence together in a report described at http://games.eun.org/2009/05/research_results_released.html. Headline finding: "Comparison of the approaches to electronic games in different educational systems brings to light four conceptions: support for pupils in difficulty, modernisation of the system, the development of advanced skills, and the preparation of future citizens who will live in a society made up of virtual worlds." - roger.blamire roger.blamire Feb 9, 2010
  • Apart from the curriculum and pedagogic issues around games that are accessed online for use in classrooms, is the challenge for schools concerning the amount of bandwidth they require.- kathryn.moyle kathryn.moyle Feb 9, 2010
  • One of the biggest impacts is on the way we think about failure and risk in school settings: in life and in games, failure is part of a learning process, but it's hard to acknowledge this in formal education. Another will be in helping us think about learning as more than simply delivering content, just as games are more than a way to simply engage learners (for one thing, not all learners enjoy games)- stephen.breslin stephen.breslin Feb 10, 2010

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

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