Types of Game-Based Learning

When most people think about game-based learning (GBL), they usually assume it’s about using a digital/online educational game about a specific subject area. Or, they think that GBL is synonymous with “gamification” (which it’s not).

Instead, the field of GBL covers several different types of gaming or game-like experiences. These include (but not limited to) the following:

Analog Games: These are an easy way for teachers to introduce GBL to their classrooms because of their familiarity and low-tech nature. This includes board games, card games, and even and outdoor games.

Digital Educational Games: There are many online educational games, such as DragonBox or iCivics, that cover academic subject matter and also many serious games that can help educate players in areas such as societal issues and health. The Games For Change and IndieCade game festivals often feature a wide variety of good digital educational and serious games.

Video Games: Many popular video games, such as Minecraft or Fortnite, are often used in educational settings to help students learn academic content (e.g., a Minecraft math lesson) and/or social-emotional learning (SEL) and soft skills, such as communication and teamwork skills. weThink is a platform that uses esports gaming to help students develop SEL and soft skills.

Game Design Projects: Having students design their own games, especially in a team format, is an excellent way to help them learn academic content and SEL/soft skills. There are various game design tools available for no- or low-cost, ranging from easy-to-use (e.g., Scratch), to intermediate complexity (Stencyl, Godot), to professional (Unity, Unreal Engine).

Escape Games: Escape games can be in-person, virtual, or a digital/analog hybrid and can be used to cover practically any content or skill area. Breakout EDU is a popular and customizable escape game platform, and educators have used various web tools, such as Google Forms to design their own escape games or have students design their own escape games.

VR/AR/XR Immersive Games: The use of virtual reality, augmented reality, and/or mixed reality can engage students in a truly immersive way, bringing things to life in a way that no other format can. We’re only just starting to explore the educational potential of these immersive types of experiences.

Gamification: Gamification is to turn something that’s not a game into a gaming or game-like experiences. For example, apps like Zombie’s Run and Fitocracy turn running exercise into a gaming experience. As you can see from this definition, gamification is not the same as GBL, which encompasses all of the above.