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Game-based Learning Theory and Evidence

So far this month, we’ve covered what game-based learning is and isn’t along with the do’s and don’ts for designing educational games. However, if you’re new to the game-based learning sphere, you may still be wondering: why learning games in the first place? And moreover, why do we dedicate our entire business to educational game development? 

You may have heard before that having a “why” is important for any business (or individual) to stay motivated and focused when it comes to sticking with goals long-term. Our goal is to create playful experiences that improve people’s lives. But how do we stay dedicated to this goal? Read on for our “why”!

via Tenor

Put simply, our “why” includes our convictions backed by research. We believe that learning experiences should be fun because play is powerful, and we’ve got empirical theory and evidence to back it up! Filament has honed our game-design methodology across 17 years of developing learning games for a diverse global clientele. This methodology is based on both direct experience and the findings of game-based learning efficacy research. 

For example, across 57 studies that compared teaching with a game to using other instructional tools, incorporating a game was more effective. Using a game improved cognitive learning outcomes along with intrapersonal and interpersonal outcomes. Researchers looking at other collections of studies have found that games help students retain what they’ve learned. In a survey by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, teachers reported that they found games provided the greatest benefit and boost to engagement to lower-performing students. Of all teachers surveyed, 47% of teachers reported that low-performing students received the greatest benefit from games in their classrooms, almost as many as all other categories combined, and 65% reported that low-performing students became more engaged with content overall when it was presented in the form of a game. 55% said that their lower-performing students were more motivated when playing a game. Across 20 studies in the 2014 meta-analysis by Clark et al., students playing games with design additions informed by learning theory outperformed students playing standard versions of the same games. From knowledge retention to increased scores to engagement, these studies demonstrate time and time again that game-based learning significantly impacts classrooms for the better. 

But we don’t just draw on general game-based learning research alone – other project-specific empirical evidence is incorporated into our work as well. Looking at our upcoming game RoboCo, for instance, we are drawing on research from North American Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF) and FIRST ® to infuse the project with multiple kinds of evidence-based design paradigms. For example, research from a multi-year longitudinal study shows that FIRST is increasing the number of students interested in STEM, influencing their educational and career choices

The study included 822 FIRST students and 451 comparison group students. The comparison group included students who did not participate in FIRST programs but were enrolled in science and math classes at the same schools, and all students received a baseline survey and follow-up surveys each year. The study found that 81% of FIRST alumni declared a major in STEM compared with 58% of students in the comparison group; 68% of FIRST alumni declared a major in Engineering or Computer Science compared with 29% of students in the comparison group; and 51% of female FIRST alumni declared a major in engineering or computer science compared with 16% of students in the comparison group. FIRST students, in general, were two times more likely to show an increase in STEM-related attitudes and interests compared to comparison group students. These impacts were consistent across all FIRST students regardless of race, gender, income, or community type. Evidence like this demonstrates the transformative impact of competitive robotics programs, and we’re collaborating closely with FIRST to infuse RoboCo with the same pedagogical design elements that make FIRST programs so effective. 

When it comes to scholastic esports, the research is also in! The field of scholastic eSports shows promise for developing 21st-century skills, building community, and improving STEM attitudes. Students in North American Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF) programs “report significant gains in their ability to cooperate and their relationships with both peers and adults as a result of the program”. These gains are more significant in lower-income schools: when comparing NASEF students to non-NASEF students in those same schools, researchers found that NASEF youth had better relationships with adults. For more information, check out this video featuring Dr. Constance Steinkuehler on how scholastic esports build community.

NASEF participants were also surveyed on their beliefs and attitudes towards a variety of educational and socio-emotional constructs. The results showed that “of the 19 variables, STEM Value, STEM Career Interest, and STEM Engagement made up 3 of the top 4 strongest reported positive changes in attitude as a result of the program”. Garrison Wells, Graduate Student Researcher at UC Irvine, explains more here:

The big picture is this: we know that game-based learning has an impact. We can observe it in the students who play our games. But there’s also theoretical and empirical support for what we do, and we base our services on these findings too. Hopefully this helps you to understand why we hold game-based learning so near and dear to our hearts, and why we are so committed to infusing video games with education. We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to have meaningful and fun learning experiences. According to research, game-based learning is one of the best ways to make that happen. That’s why we do what we do!

Intrigued by this data and looking to create an impactful gaming experience of your own? Send us a message – we’d love to hear from you.

More evidence supporting game-based learning:


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