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A Year in Game-based Learning: Educational Trends and Insights from 2023

With each passing year, the educational landscape undergoes significant shifts, and 2023 has been no exception. In our opinion, one of the most noteworthy developments this year is the continued rise of game-based learning as a powerful pedagogical tool. As we reflect on the year gone by, we’ll explore the trends and insights that have shaped the world of educational games and the impact they’ve had on learners of all ages.

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The Maturation of Game-based Learning

One of the defining characteristics of game-based learning in 2023 has been its maturation. Educational games have come a long way from their humble beginnings, evolving into sophisticated tools that are truly immersive in a way no other educational media can be. Whether it’s science, math, history, or any other subject, there’s likely an educational game that complements the curriculum.

When it comes to cultural attitudes about game-based learning, understanding and support for it as a legitimate teaching tool has also grown. In an article for EdSurge called “Reflections on 50 years of Game-Based Learning (Part 3),” Dennis M. Bartels and Alan Gershenfeld point to the substantial and growing body of research demonstrating the pedagogical value of game-based learning, such as the recent publication of a peer-reviewed report in JAMA Network that showed enhanced cognitive performance in children who played video games compared to those who did not.

Bartels and Gershenfeld also highlight the critical role of technology and access to computers and broadband in enabling game-based learning. They note that access is no longer a major limiting factor for this educational approach, and the comfort level of schools and teachers with integrating games into the classroom is growing.

The authors also emphasize the significance of interest-driven learning, particularly in the realm of youth game-making. Companies like Microsoft, Epic, and Roblox have ventured into education, aiming to reach millions of students.

Moreover, game-based learning’s influence isn’t confined to traditional educational settings. Its application has extended into workplaces, medical settings, and various other professional domains. Employees are engaging with training modules that employ game-based techniques, fostering skill development and knowledge retention in corporate settings. In the medical field, serious games are used for training healthcare professionals, offering realistic scenarios that enhance their decision-making skills. 

As game-based learning continues to mature, its versatility and adaptability make it a valuable tool not just for students but also for professionals seeking skill enhancement and continuous education. This expansion into diverse domains marks a promising evolution for game-based learning as it gains recognition and acceptance across industries.

A Focus on Accessibility and Inclusivity

In 2023, there has been a concerted effort to ensure that educational games are accessible and inclusive for all learners. This means addressing issues such as accessibility for students with disabilities and creating games that are culturally relevant and sensitive to diverse backgrounds. Game developers are making strides in designing games that can be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of their abilities, backgrounds, or learning preferences.

For example, Associate Professor Jessica Hunt, in collaboration with the North Carolina State College of Education, is spearheading a groundbreaking initiative to harness the power of game-based learning (GBL) for students with learning disabilities. Over the past two years, they have developed Dream2B, a game designed to enhance students’ understanding of fractions while introducing them to STEM career possibilities

This project, funded by a National Science Foundation ITEST grant, features a character named Bunny who navigates six distinct worlds tied to STEM and information and communication technology (ICT) careers. The game emphasizes accessibility, offering customizable features and tools, allowing students to employ individual strategies and reasoning methods. Tutorials, adaptive prompts, and assessments are integrated into the interface of Dream2B, while problem-solving and post-game discussions align with National Council of Teachers of Mathematics standards.

In an interview with NC State University, Hunt emphasizes that making STEM opportunities more accessible to students with disabilities is a crucial aspect of this project. Students with disabilities often possess unique qualities that are valuable in STEM and ICT careers, such as attention to detail, systematic procedural knowledge, and creative problem-solving abilities. However, they are underrepresented in these fields. The project seeks to address this gap by providing inclusive educational tools that consider individual students’ needs.

Overall, the concept of inclusive game design has expanded to consider individualized learning pathways. Adaptive games like Dream2B, which adjust the difficulty and content based on each student’s performance, allow all students to learn at their own pace. This approach to inclusivity in educational game design has the potential to significantly reduce achievement gaps and ensure that no learner is left out.

The Power of Data-Driven Insights

The digital nature of educational games provides a unique opportunity for educators to gather data on student performance and engagement. In 2023, the use of data analytics and learning analytics has become increasingly prevalent in educational game design. This data allows educators to gain a deeper understanding of how their students are progressing, where they may be struggling, and how to adjust their teaching methods accordingly.

Learning analytics can provide insights into individual student performance, class-level trends, and areas where improvements are needed. By harnessing this data, educators can make informed decisions to optimize the learning experience for their students, whether it’s through targeted interventions or adjustments to the game’s content and mechanics.

The Emergence of Mixed-Reality Learning

In 2023, we’ve seen an exciting trend in the convergence of game-based learning with mixed-reality (MR) technologies. MR includes and sometimes even combines virtual reality and augmented reality to create immersive learning experiences. MR allows students to interact with digital content in the real world, opening up new possibilities for educational games.

For students, immersive technology transforms abstract concepts into tangible, interactive visuals. However, it’s not just students who benefit; teachers also find value in using this technology for professional development. One example of this is the McGraw Hill AR app, created in partnership with Verizon Innovative Learning. This free AR app offers bite-sized, engaging experiences that foster in-depth conceptual learning in subjects like algebra, social studies, and English Language Arts. The app’s interactive visuals make complex concepts more accessible.

The power of immersive technology lies in its multimodal nature, making it accessible to a wider range of learners. By offering free standards-aligned lesson plans, this technology becomes more inclusive, inspiring students to become innovators and creators.

Immersive learning is still evolving, and with dedicated partnerships, the possibilities for deeply engaging learning experiences for both teachers and students continue to expand. Dr. Shawn Smith, Chief Innovation Officer of McGraw Hill School, envisions a future where immersive, experiential learning becomes a more widespread and integral part of education.

With MR, learners can do almost anything – explore historical sites, conduct virtual science experiments, or solve complex math problems, for example – within a blended reality environment. This dynamic shift toward MR has made educational games even more engaging and interactive, if you can believe it!

A Year of Collaboration and Innovation

2023 has been a year of exciting developments and innovative partnerships in the realm of educational games. The growth and maturation of this field hold promise for more effective and engaging learning experiences for students around the world. With increased inclusivity, data-driven insights, and mixed-reality learning on the horizon, the future of game-based learning is a bright one. As we step into a new year, we look forward to witnessing the ongoing transformation of education and the ever-expanding role of educational games in shaping the minds of the future!

The coming year is brimming with possibilities, and if you’re eager to explore the world of game-based learning or collaborate on innovative educational solutions, don’t hesitate to connect with us. Together, we can continue to push the boundaries of educational game design and unlock the potential of learning through play.

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