Research Roundup: Studies Support Game-based Learning

BY Ellen Jameson
Article by Ellen Jameson, Learning Specialist

In the past decade, there has been a substantial amount of research on learning games. Some researchers have recently completed meta-analyses pulling all of the evidence together to see what conclusions are emerging so far. The Joan Ganz Cooney Center has also completed a survey of 694 K-8 teachers focusing on digital games in the classroom.

The findings below from these and other recent studies apply directly to our work at Filament Games, and we want to share what informs and inspires us!

1. Games matter.
There is consistent evidence that games can benefit all students, especially those with the greatest need.

Across 57 studies that compared teaching with a game to using other instructional tools, incorporating a game was more effective (SD .33). Using a game improved cognitive learning outcomes along with intrapersonal and interpersonal outcomes. [1] Researchers looking at other collections of studies have found that games help students retain what they’ve learned. [2]

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. [3]

2. Design matters.
Although benefits from using games have been demonstrated broadly, the degree that students benefit from a game depends on the design of the game itself, and on the design of lessons that incorporate it into the curriculum.

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 (SD .37). [1] In studies that allowed students to play a game more than once, learning outcomes were significantly higher when students played multiple times, even though many games allow students to practice a skill several times during a single play session. [1,2] This suggests that it is important to choose games that have been designed for learning, and to incorporate them into lessons in a way that gives students the opportunity to reflect and incorporate what they’re learning between gameplay sessions.

3. Teachers matter.
Teachers are designing the experiences their students will have in the classroom every day. It is up to the teacher to create or select instructional tools and decide how best to incorporate them into their lessons. These decisions have a significant impact on learning outcomes, irrespective of the qualities of the particular tools involved.

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. [2]

4. The whole student matters.
Games support both academic and social-emotional development.

The project at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center highlighted the results of a recent study in the UK that looked at social-emotional effects of video games. A study of 11,000 students found that video games in general did not have negative emotional or behavioral effects, and did not adversely affect attention.[4] Another study of 5,000 students took a more detailed look at gameplay, and found that students who play games up to an hour a day demonstrated greater social and emotional well-being. [5]

1. Clark, D., Tanner-Smith, E., Killingsworth, S . (2014). Digital Games, Design and Learning: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis (Executive Summary). Menlo Park, CA: SRI International. Accessed September 10, 2014.
2. Wouters, P., van Nimwegen, C., van Oostendorp, H., & van der Spek, E. D. (2013, February 4). A Meta-Analysis of the Cognitive and Motivational Effects of Serious Games. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105(2), 249-265.
3. Joan Ganz Cooney Center (2014). “Teachers Surveyed on Using Digital Games in Class.“ Games and Learning Publishing Council. Retrieved September 10, 2014, from
4. Parkes, A., Sweeting, H., Wight, D., & Henderson, M. (2013). Do television and electronic games predict children’s psychosocial adjustment? Longitudinal research using the UK Millennium Cohort Study. Archives of disease in childhood, 98.5, 341-348. Accessed September 10, 2014.
5. Przybylski, A. K. (2014). Electronic gaming and psychosocial adjustment. Pediatrics, 134(3), e716-e722. Accessed September 10, 2014.