Is Digital Game-Based Learning The Future Of Learning?

Is Digital Game-Based Learning The Future Of Learning?
Max Griboedov/
Summary: Gaming is an educational tool that some educators insist is beneficial to learning. There are some, however, who do not share the same opinion. This article discusses digital game-based learning, or DGBL, and its merits, including the negatives associated with it.

Digital Game-Based Learning: Advantages And Criticisms 

It’s that head-scratching moment most parents have when their child who cannot multiply improper fractions can extensively explain how to defeat a video game Boss in one sitting. The explanation here is pretty simple: Digital game-based learning (DGBL), a motivational, challenging, and rewarding process that can be fun, too.

What Is Game-Based Learning?

Most people need effective and interactive experiences that motivate them to actively participate in the learning process. One of the ways to do this is through game-based learning.

Game-based learning today involves the use of computer and video games specifically aimed to produce learning outcomes. It is designed to balance subject matter and gameplay, and later assesses the ability of the learner to retain and apply the acquired knowledge to real-world scenarios.

An effective game-based learning environment helps learners work toward a goal while choosing actions, and experience the consequences of those actions. While students/players make mistakes, the risk-free setting of a game environment allows failures to become challenges, which then incites them to devise and revise their actions until they arrive at the correct way of doing things.

This makes the activity more engaging until the learning objective is fulfilled.

Is Digital Game-Based Learning Effective?

Richard Van Eck of the University of North Dakota said that several reviews of the literature on gaming over the last 40 years find that digital game-based learning generally has positive effects.

Referring to the principle of situated cognition, Van Eck states that games are effective partly because the learning takes place within a meaningful context. The subject matter is directly related to the environment in which students/players learn. As such, the knowledge gained is not only relevant but applied and practiced within that context.

Researchers have also stated that play is a primary mechanism of learning and socialization common to all human cultures, as well as a number of animal groups. A specific example is a lion’s ability to learn to hunt through modeling and play, not through direct instruction, which is the same principle employed in a game-based instructional strategy.

The following elements of digital game-based learning add to its appeal as an effective educational tool:

1. Competition. 

The competitive elements of a game are generally not found in traditional learning methods like a classroom lecture or discussion. Competition provides motivation to students/players to engage and finish an activity. It doesn’t need to be against another participant. It could also be attempting to bag the highest score possible or outdoing one’s self every time.

If you think of a game environment, such as MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games), players competing against the computer is how most interactions take place, whether through combat, racing, or navigating dialogue trees. In PvE, or player versus environment mode, players test their skills against a programmed enemy, employing a defined set of strategies to overcome an obstacle.

2. Engagement.

Games that are fun to play significantly improve learning performance. When students have fun, the learning pressure dissipates, allowing them to freely define and modify their strategies according to a specific goal.

3. Immediate Rewards. 

Rewards aid in the learning process by keeping the participant invested and coming back for more. This fosters a continuous learning process for the student/player, as each learning objective is tied to a series of challenges. Goals and their corresponding rewards can be built in stages and set according to difficulty.

4. Immediate Reinforcement And Feedback.

Research on learning and behavior shows that students learn faster when there’s a shorter interval between behavior and reinforcer. It would be less discouraging for students to learn their mistakes right away than seeing a red mark on paper assessments a few days later. Feedback in a game context is instantaneous and scoring can be standardized to allow comparisons.

Criticisms On Digital Game-Based Learning

While positive claims have been made about using games as educational tools, some question its viability as well. There are those who argue that research has been slow to provide hard empirical evidence on its effectiveness.

Among the negatives that are associated with games and technology in general is that it promotes isolation and anti-social behavior, and results in short attention span. The claim on short attention span might ring true today because of the dynamic and fast-paced nature of technological advancements.

However, the anti-social behavior element might not, as more and more games are developed for social play. While some games do not allow face-to-face interactions, they mirror real-world communication that could prove useful in personal and business transactions.

Others argue that implementing either a fully digital game-based curriculum or even one that relies heavily on games requires additional equipment, software, and training of teachers, thus increasing costs. Some believe that playing games distract learners from attaining other valuable skills.

Is Digital Game-Based Learning Here To Stay?

There are debates on whether or not digital game-based learning will prevail in the next 10 years or so, but it cannot be denied that it is thriving. Based on the figures released by Ambient Insight, the game-based global market reached $1.5 billion in 2012 and is expected to grow to $2.3 billion in 2017, a compound annual growth rate of 8.3%.

Final Word

Although more studies need to be done and more games have to be developed to prove its lasting power in the field of education, game-based learning can offer many advantages when done properly. In the meantime, educators can take advantage of the multiple learning scenarios it presents to engage their audience.