Game-based learning in FE and HE

The term ‘game-based learning’ describes the use of games as a pedagogical instrument. Today, the spotlight is on digital game-based learning’s potential as an emerging technological development to revolutionise teaching and learning.  

With the advent of the internet, and now with other ground-breaking technology such as artificial intelligence and extended reality, game-based learning promises to be an educational game-changer. 

Yet, ‘play’ has been a feature of learning for millennia and studies show that game-based learning today is just as effective in analogue form as it is in digital. 

Types of game-based learning can range from the simple to the sophisticated and include: 

Gamification, similarly, involves the incorporation of elements of gaming into existing teaching practices. So, whereas game-based learning involves playing games to meet learning outcomes, gamification seeks to meet learning outcomes by integrating game mechanics such as point scoring, levels and challenges and competition into traditional methods. 

Both have been found to enhance both students’ attention throughout the learning process and improve retention of content afterwards.  

Why is it important for HE and FE? 

The game-based learning market is predicted to increase 5 fold in the next decade. Both ed-tech giants and start-ups are working intensively to offer new gamified education experiences, from multiple choice quizzes and gamified flashcards to virtual labs and immersive science lessons. But is adopting game-based learning really that worthwhile for higher and further education institutions in the UK? The learning impacts suggest so. 

Game-based learning has demonstrated an ability to better consolidate conceptual knowledge and increase motivation across the curriculum than traditional methods, such as in the study of languages, science, and mechanical engineering. Games demonstrate a strong potential to develop problem solving and critical thinking skills and game elements such as point scoring and competition boost student engagement.  

Playful approaches to learning also have a strong potential to improve the learning experience by increasing student satisfaction and have been shown to improve educational attainment amongst pupils with learning difficulties.  

As well as serving to develop hard skills, through play, students will often build on their communication and teamwork competencies, which are much sought after by employers. Games can also be applied outside of teaching and learning including assessment, pastoral care and inductions.  

How can institutions implement it?  

Although game-based learning has long been a central component of teaching, predominantly in analogue form and within primary and secondary education, FE and HE institutions have already embraced both analogue and digital game-based learning and have integrated it into their teaching and learning practices. An international snapshot reflects the range of ways this can be done, from the simple to the complex: 

  • Rather than recite an hour-long lecture to her students, a professor at Iowa State University prefers to use a whole host of activities such as Quizlet, crosswords, and games such as “say it in six”, in which students define key terms in six words. She finds that games consolidate knowledge more effectively than rote memorisation by establishing strong conceptual links in her students’ minds. 
  • A Lego-based ‘Liner Shipping Game’ was used at Cardiff University by postgraduate students studying for a BSC in Marine Policy and International Transport. It served as an accompaniment to traditional methods of teaching and helped student consolidate their knowledge in areas such as liner shipping, revenue management and stowage optimisation. As well as providing an opportunity to practically apply academic knowledge, players were able to develop their soft skills such as teamwork and communication. 
  • An interactive pirate-themed campus tour game was developed at the University of Lincoln to show students around the university. We produced a podcast with the university to discuss their ambitious project.  
  • Medical students at the University of British Columbia are using Augmented Reality technology to study the inner workings of the human brain. This technology, designed to complement in-lab dissections, provides further opportunities for anatomical exploration that are otherwise limited.  
  • The University of Strathclyde implemented game-based learning into their climate-awareness workshop, in which students participated in role-play activities. The role-play “engage[d] students in exercising their systems and critical thinking competencies to understand the causes, effects and interdependencies associated with climate change”. The workshop won an award, that recognises sustainability best practice in the education sector, for student engagement.  
  • Several colleges across the UK have also implemented game-based learning in highly creative ways, from online games and quizzes for GCSE Maths and English revision to a VR lab to teach a course in game design. Our report from 2020 highlights these success stories.  

As in the examples above, for game-based learning to be effective it must be thoughtfully applied to the curriculum and show clear potential to meet learning outcomes. Similarly, there should be awareness of the implications of relying on games, which should serve to complement other learning practices. When used right, game-based learning has the power to positively transform education. 

We at Jisc would like to know:

  • Is your institution and its stakeholders comfortable with the integration of games into education at the post-secondary level? 
  • Has society overcome its prejudice against video games as dangerous/unhealthy? 
  • Are games recognised as being complimentary to traditional methods of education and not as posing a threat to them? 

If you would like to get involved in this conversation, please contact or leave a comment below.


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