The 30-second briefing: What is games-based learning?

In this week's 30-second briefing, lecturer and primary teacher Sarah Wright tells you everything you need to know about gamification and games-based learning

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What is games-based learning?

When I was at school, “games in the classroom” meant getting the draughts out at wet break. Things have moved on since then and games-based learning (GBL) is an approach to teaching that, along with gamification, is quickly gaining popularity.

Are games-based learning and gamification the same thing?

Not quite. Gamification means adding gaming-like mechanics to your teaching. For example, children might earn reward points that allow them to move up “levels” on a behaviour chart. GBL, on the other hand, puts a game at the centre of the learning process.

Are we talking computer games, or old-school board games here?

More often than not, GBL focuses on computer-based games. This includes things like Minecraft and Angry Birds. But there is still a lot to be learnt from traditional games. You could teach co-ordinates with Battleship, probability through snakes and ladders…

But that isn’t real learning is it? What will the head say if my whole class are playing a game when she drops in on a learning walk?

Actually, there is a growing body of research on GBL and gamification that suggests that real learning is exactly what your head would see in that scenario. Most games will ask a player to think critically, to look for outside-the-box solutions and to communicate well with others.

As we mentioned when we were talking about Flow, games offer opportunities for pupils to become really immersed in their learning. The competitive element provides an intrinsic sense of motivation and adds intensity to learning that can make it feel authentic for learners.

That’s all very well for the pupils that win. What about the losers?

Losing provides teachable moments. Resilience, grit and the ability to overcome failure are all things that we want pupils to develop, but which are quite difficult to teach in an abstract way. The “fun” aspect of games might make failure a little easier to take. Plus, in a game there’s always the opportunity to play on for another chance at winning.

Okay, I’m sold. But where do I start?

Start small. Really simple ideas such as using a screenshot from a game like Candy Crush can have huge potential. Can children find symmetry in it? Is there logic to the pattern? Can they write instructions to complete it?

Or, you could try using a quizzing tool like Kahoot. This provides instant feedback and reporting as well as engagement, so it is the perfect “gateway” game.

I’ve shared some sketch notes from an Angry Birds project I have done here and the awesome Mr P ICT has some brilliant examples of Minecraft in the classroom here

For more research, Matthew Farber has penned some excellent blogs and also has a book that’s well worth reading.

Sarah Wright is a senior lecturer at Edge Hill University. She tweets as @Sarah__wright1

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