< Back to Blog

5 Myths About Game-based Learning

Myths! Rumors! Misconceptions! 

Like pretty much everything in this world, game-based learning is not immune to any of the above. But luckily, your favorite friendly educational game developer is here to dispel common game-based learning falsehoods, just for you! 

via Giphy

Chances are, if you’re new to the subject and have been trying to learn more about game-based learning, you’ve encountered some of the following myths. Let’s clear the air on what GBL is and what it is not!

Myth #1: Gamification and game-based learning are the same thing

Though they are often used interchangeably, gamification and game-based learning are not synonymous. And though they share some significant qualities, game-based learning is not gamification in the same way that a rectangle is not a square. Gamification falls under the umbrella of game-based learning. 

CCO Dan Norton puts it best: “gamification as a practice refers to the integration of content-agnostic game-based tools. These include things like points, badges, quests, feedback…basically things that go into games that make them sticky and compelling, but don’t actually tie to the content itself.” Game-based learning, on the other hand, “is the larger toolset. It includes the points, badges, and all that jazz, but it also includes strategies on how to tie the content or practice itself to gameplay. That means we look at the content and figure out if there are ways to embody that content in the act of play itself.” 

To put it simply, gamification is the act of adding game-like qualities on top of a learning experience. Game-based learning is more like weaving – learning becomes the very fabric of a game, and vice versa. Want to dive even further into the distinction between gamification and game-based learning? Check out this more in-depth look at Gamification vs. Game-based Learning.

via EdSurge

Myth #2: Game-based learning is a solitary activity

Upon hearing the words “educational video games,” some might picture a very stereotypical gamer, someone holed away from the rest of the world in a dark basement in front of a screen. In reality, educational video games (and entertainment video games, too!) certainly can be a solo effort, but they don’t have to be. In fact, there are many compelling arguments as to why game-based learning is more effective when done alongside others. 

For example, game-based learning naturally pairs with project-based learning, a pedagogy that swaps lectures for hands-on educational experiences where students learn by doing. According to Edutopia, this method of learning necessitates teamwork, as it requires “students to work together as they tackle complex, real-world problems that emphasize uncertainty, iterative thinking, and innovation.” For recent examples of how project-based learning and game-based learning combine to create rigorous learning experiences, check out our post on Educational Games and Project-based Learning. In addition to project-based learning, game-based learning is pivotal when it comes to building 21st century, or future-facing skills. Future-facing skills include critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity. Emphasis on collaboration and communication! 

For further evidence that game-based learning encourages collaboration (and other multiplayer experiences, like competition!), there’s the burgeoning field of scholastic esports. In esports, one is never completely alone, whether they are competing against or collaborating with others. New scholastic offerings, such as digital robotics, provide students with more experiences to learn from games and from others, like classmates, teammates, and teachers, in tandem.  

For a peek at game-based learning collaboration and competition in action, check out the qualifier round of the FIRST® Global RoboCo Challenge, a digital robotics event, here:

Myth #3: Game-based learning is a new, emerging concept

Though scholastic esports is a (relatively) nascent mode of learning, it may come as a surprise that game-based learning is not. Sure, learning through play as we know it now looks a bit different than it did in times past, but the fact remains that play and learning are a winning combination. 

Before the digital age, board games (such as chess!) were used as tools to teach military leaders, politicians, and more. Many of these first learning board games originated in India, including math games for children and what researchers believe to be an earlier iteration of chess. The creation of Kindergarten was born out of the idea to learn through play. Looking at the history of games as learning tools, we don’t think it’s going too far to say that many people have always been inclined to learn through play. There’s a reason that back in the 18th century, German philosopher and playwright Friedrich Schiller wrote that “humans are only fully human when they play.” Compare that quote to the quote below from our very own CEO, Dan White – they’re both on to something. 🤔

Nowadays, many people can look back fondly at the 70s classic Oregon Trail and the beloved 90s game Zoombinis and trace their personal histories with learning games. Contemporary game-based learning scholars like James Paul Gee have made major contributions to the collective understanding of digital games as educational tools, and game-based theory will continue to evolve and push towards the best outcomes for learners – all while keeping joy right alongside learning, just like in ancient times!

Dive into game-based learning history (and maybe your childhood) with our retro review of The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis below!

Myth #4: Game-based learning is only effective for children 

One pervasive myth about video games in general (and in our opinion, one of the saddest!) is that they are only enjoyable for children. While it may be true that each individual has their own level of technological literacy given how much technology they use in their everyday lives, everyone can learn to play a well-designed game! According to Ryan Timpany for the Training Industry, “Whatever their age, the key factor in the success of using game-based learning lies in knowing who your learners are, what they need to learn and how to design learning that appeals to them.

Moreover, adults can not only enjoy but benefit from game-based learning just as much as children. You don’t have to take our word for it – for example, a 2018 survey revealed that 87% of employees find that gamified work exercises make them more productive, with 80% of survey respondents indicating that they enjoy using gamified software in the workplace. A 2014 study found that brain training using video games improved cognitive performance in older adults. And there’s more where that came from! There are so many ways game-based learning can be used for adult learning and training – from onboarding to practicing surgical procedures!

Here at Filament, we’ve created an assortment of games for adult learners, such as MSI Retail Sim and Wavequest, pictured below. As life-long learners ourselves, we believe that no matter your age, you can experience the joy and benefits that come with game-based learning! 

Myth #5: Game-based learning is meant to replace teachers

The goal of educational games is not to make living, breathing teachers obsolete. Addressing previous myths, we’ve referred to game-based learning multiple times as a “tool” – and that’s exactly what it is! A toolset for teachers to use in their classrooms, a method of teaching that functions to shake up or add to traditional pedagogies. 

Many studies support the use of game-based learning in classroom settings, teacher and all! In one study called “A meta-analysis of the cognitive and motivational effects of serious games” researchers found that while using games can improve learning gains under a variety of circumstances, the greatest gains have been achieved by teachers who surround students’ game experiences with additional support and instruction. The benefit added by games was greatest when the teachers complemented the games with a mix of different surrounding activities. 

Speaking of surrounding students with support, when it comes to passion-based learning, scientist Ainissa Ramirez notes that that passion can be found or created – either by finding out a student’s existing passions, or through a passionate teacher that can effectively spread their interest to their students. A teacher’s passion for subject matter in the classroom is an irreplaceable source of motivation for students – and it fuses seamlessly with game-based learning, since many young people are enthusiastic about games and play. Educational games in the classroom are a win-win situation for students and teachers alike.

That concludes our list of common game-based learning myths!

via Gifer

The myths on this list are all certifiably busted. Let us know on Facebook or Twitter if you’ve ever encountered these myths, or if you’ve heard of another game-based learning misconception that we can investigate for you.🔍

More game-based learning goodness:

© 2022 Filament games. All rights reserved.