Game-Based Learning

A New Community and Resources for Games for Learning

Time to level up

March 30, 2012

You knew it was coming, didn't you? Edutopia has officially launched its new Games for Learning Community, and I am honored to be its facilitator. I'm excited to have a space where teachers can share best practices, ask questions around implementation and nerd out on gaming in the classroom.

If you are new to the conversation around games for learning, it is a large umbrella that contains many aspects of using games and game mechanics in the classroom. Whether you're a seasoned gamer or a total noob, here's a intro video and a glossary so that we can all have a common understanding. Please feel free to add additional terms in the comments of this post. (Yes, I said "noob").

Serious Games

These games require learning in order to solve a problem. Often they are used in a variety of industries to train people. A serious game might even be a simulation. For example, I know that many simulations are used to train soldiers, firefighters and doctors. In terms of serious games in the education sector, these games require learning of core content and other skills like problem-solving and collaboration. Common examples of serious games in education are iCivics, which focuses on government and civic learning, and BrainPop, which has games on a variety of subjects from math to health


This is process of applying game mechanics to something that is not a game. These days, gamification is being used in a variety of areas, not just education. In fact, one of the seemingly funny but effective use of gamification is being used to keep people from speeding!

In terms of education, gameification has the capacity to completely transform the way students learn, how we assess them, and the criteria for success. Instead of a singular lesson, we are really changing the structure and paradigm of learning the classroom. Terry Heick did a great blog on the subject, and I describe overall structures and give further tips in two separate blogs about using the video game model to build units of instruction. Dr. Judy Willis gives some great specific tips as well. 3D Game Lab has even created a tool and professional development to help you gamify your classroom!

Game Based Learning (GBL)

This is also the blanket term you might see when reading or talking about games for learning. GBL and Games for Learning are almost synonymous. However, GBL refers to any practice that uses both Serious Games that balance gameplay with learning subject matter, as well as any instruction that also draws on "non-educational" games. In addition, games can range from a Kinect Game to a paper and pencil game. One might even include gamification of education in GBL. This may seem a little confusing, so let's see how these different areas of GBL are used in context.

A GBL Approach

Are you going to use iCivics? Here, learning the content is required to be successful in the game. The game seamlessly pushes out content to students, which they must use to be successful. In order to achieve in "Win the White House," students learn about the electoral college and elements of campaigning as they play. Through learning, trial and error, students can win the game

A Games for Learning Approach

Are you using Civilization? Here, the game isn't necessarily used to push out content. Rather, it is used a space to apply and wrestle with the content in a new context. Teachers would pair other instructional activities with this game to have students learn, as well as create other assessments to check for learning.

A Gamification Approach

Are you creating a whole unit using the game model? Here, elements of games are applied to the overall model of instruction. Lessons become quests, and summative assessments become boss levels. In addition, multiple standards would be targeted in this unit. So instead of just learning about the electoral college, there would be many more standards and learning targets that would be synthesized in the boss level.

Additional Resources

Dr. James Paul Gee is a huge proponent of Games for Learning, being associated with many groups including the Games for Learning Institute, which also has many games you might use in your classroom. A blog recently posted by John Larmer reviews a recent talk he gave, but you can also watch Edutopia's featured video. In addition, I encourage you to take a look at some of my past blogs on Games for Learning and look at the resources Edutopia has already collected. Let's use these resources and the resources you can share with our community to engage students in learning critical content and 21st century skills. Game On!

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  • Student Engagement
  • Technology Integration
  • K-2 Primary
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