An Introduction to Games Based Learning by Andrew Miller

written by Andrew K Miller

Part of education reform is about terminology, but more importantly it is about being on the same page as other educators. Once on the same page, we can “speak the same language, and make a collective, cohesive argument for what’s best for students. At KinectEd, we want to provide resources, lesson plans, and also these tools for advocacy. I hope to write blogs to give educators the tools to articulate why using games in the classroom can be effective, how to ensure good implementation, and how to advocate to stakeholders how and why it works. Thus, I want to arm us all with clear language about Game Based Learning (GBL).

Our good friend Wikipedia, gives a good overview of GBL, and summarizes it as “a branch of serious games that deals with applications that have defined learning outcomes. Generally they are designed in order to balance the subject matter with the gameplay and the ability of the player to retain and apply said subject matter to the real world.”

Serious games are not a new thing. I think iCivics is a prime example of this in terms of learning Social Studies and Civics content. In many of these games, players and engaged in a game, but must learn content in order to succeed at it. In order to progress, the player must learn. All players learn, regardless of the game being played, but here the content being learned might be consider for mainstream “academic.” In the classroom, teachers can design these sorts of games, but it’s obviously a challenge. Teachers as Game Designers?!? It’s possible, but it takes work. (Looking forward to helping teachers design these games in later blogs).

Related to this, I would argue that GBL and Gamification of Education overlap in many ways. You are taking game design elements and applying them to your instruction. However, Gamification is more “global” in that it is applied to the overall classroom structure, rather than simply creating a serious game for the classroom. However, if you are gamifying your classroom, aren’t you in essence creating a serious game, the serious game being the entire structure of learning? Something to think about, as this conversation of Games for Learning and GBL move forward.

In addition, besides creating serious games as a teacher for learning, GBL is also balancing a game that might be unrelated to the academics, with academic learning. For example, you might take World of Warcraft and use it a method to integrate and engage learning in English Language Arts. Through careful lesson design, where gameplay is balanced with more traditional or “academic” activities, the game can create the entry point to learn critical content.

Don’t get me wrong, I personally believe that gameplay is academic. One of my staple books is James Paul Gee’s “What Video Games Have TO Teach Us About Learning and Literacy?” In it, Gee expounds about the critical learning that takes place when we game. GBL is about merging this learning experience in gaming with the learning that needs to take place in the classroom subject areas. As you explain GBL to your colleagues, stakeholders, and education reformers, make sure to elicit its complexities in terms implementation and definition, while espousing its critical gains for engagement, learning and student achievement.

Andrew Miller (@betamiller on Twitter) is an international educational consultant specializing in many areas including online learning and games-based learning and gamification of education. He is also National Faculty member for the Buck Institute for Education, an org that specializes in project-based learning, committed to make powerful learning a reality for every student. He is also a regular blogger for Edutopia.


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