George Lucas Educational Foundation
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

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!

Was this useful?

Comments (8) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

VocabularySpellingCity Mayor's picture
VocabularySpellingCity Mayor
VocabularySpellingCity is on a mission to improve student reading comprehension through improving vocabulary retention. And making it fun for the students, easy on the teachers. I'm also the founder of, K-2nd science.

It creating games for learning, we focus on keeping the kids on task and making it fun. For our vocabulary, spelling, writing, and alphabetical games, we avoid any shooting or distracting game play and try to keep their minds focused on the lessons while adding game-like motivation. With over 100 million page views in March !!!, there are a lot of teachers and students who like the balance reached by

Stephanie's picture

Providing the opportunity for students to experience learning through games we, as educators, open doors for students. I couldn't agree more with providing games to allow students to gain more knowledge. My students play a game which increases fact fluency known as Fastt Math. All of the students love to get on the computer and play the game, instead of practicing facts with flash cards. We also have a Smart Board in the classroom where we play classroom games, with clickers and interaction with the board. Gaming in the classroom gets my students engaged. I would thoroughly enjoy having interactive education games readily available to reinforce instruction, and increase student engagement.

Sue J's picture

I attended a technology and literacy conference this weekend and our keynote speaker, Willard Daggett, pointed out that games have changed since the days of Monopoly, when there was a winner... that now, you play the game and level up -- where you *want* things to get harder and you *want* to have to integrate what you've learned.

Amanda's picture
At-Risk Teacher

Using games in the classroom is something that I do frequently. It helps keeps my students interested, while at the same time requiring them to learn the material/concepts being taught. It is also a great tool to use as reinforcement for the skill you are teaching.

Kandi Kopel's picture
Kandi Kopel
Center Based DCD teacher

Any ideas on how to utilize the potential of gaming when the resources that you have to work with are extreemly limited? I teach students with developmental cognitive delays and we are limited to 2 OLD apple computers (not sure of the model but they are CRT style cubes with colored plastic panels) and only 1 internet connection that takes 2-3 minutes to load a page? I occasionally pull out my smart phone and hunt for apps (android) to let my students use.

Andrew Miller's picture
Andrew Miller
Instructional Coach at Shanghai American School

That's a challenging one. I will say that Games with paper can work as well as games with technology. A resource I picked up to gamify activities is a little card set from Playgen, called "adding play"

jlaustiff's picture
8th Grade LA Teacher, Instructor for Teaching with Primary Sources for GSU ARIS is an augmented reality game that both teachers and students can create and play on iproducts. ARIS allows students to take virtual field trips or place based learning. ARIS is easy to create as my students have even created their own game. Give it a try by downloading the ARIS app from the apple store. The game my students created is Washington D.C. if you want to give it a try. You will take a virtual tour to the famous landmarks of the city.

Missrithenay's picture
Sixth grade teacher from Alberta, Canada

Thanks for this wonderful information. I'm just reading a lot of your posts on edutopia and really enjoying them -- I've been working like crazy this summer to more fully integrate games based and playful learning in my classroom, so it's great to find others interested in the same things!

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.