How to Implement Learning Games in the Classroom Successfully

Bringing change to education is a mighty challenge. No matter how effective an educational strategy proves to be, there are numerous obstacles that stand in the way of its widespread adoption in classrooms. In addition to convincing policymakers and educational leaders that video games can serve as powerful educational tools, many educators are unsure of how to integrate games into their curriculum, whether they’re teaching in primary schools, secondary schools or universities.  

While game-based learning invariably yields educational benefits, some strategies are better than others. Here are two effective approaches to game-based learning that we strongly recommend.

Assign the game as homework, then discuss in class

Assigning the games as homework is a great option for a number of reasons. First, many educators don’t have the equipment available on-site for the students to play the game in class. Second, it allows students to play at their own pace, taking as much time as they need to complete the game.

While students who play the game on their own undoubtedly learn in the process, they often complete the game with questions about how their success relates to the content they are learning in class. In a math-based game, for instance, there is often a disconnect between the visual aspect of equations that the student has mastered through the game and the abstract equations they are solving on paper in the classroom.

The disconnect is why an in-class discussion after students have mastered the game is so important. We’ve found that when teachers engage students in a discussion about how different parts of the game relate to what they’re learning from their textbooks or class lectures, students achieve major breakthroughs in their understanding of the subject and become much more enthusiastic about pursuing it further.

Put students in pairs

Getting students to work in pairs or in very small groups can prove to be a particularly powerful approach to game-based learning that yields educational benefits beyond learning the subject matter at hand.

Not only do the students collectively learn as they progress through the game, but they begin teaching each other the content and in many cases debating or negotiating with each other about the content and strategy.  It opens up a natural dialogue that is distinct from traditional group learning settings.

Peer-to-peer learning allows students to build off one another’s strengths. In many cases, one student will have great familiarity with the content while another will be more comfortable navigating the gameplay. By collaborating, each will gain a better sense of an angle of the game that they might not have picked up on their own.

The power of peer-to-peer learning wanes, however, if the group grows too large. With groups of more than two or three students, the conversation quickly becomes crowded and disorganized. In response, what usually happens is one or two dominant students will take over the process and others will end up playing a passive role, thereby impacting their learning.