Educational games

Educational games are games explicitly designed with educational purposes, or games which have incidental or secondary educational value. They can be an important part of a blended learning design and can play different kinds of roles in the learning process depending on the intended learning outcomes and/or the characteristics of the target group. Games can be used to teach or test specific knowledge, expertise or skills.

Game types include board, card, and video games. Games are interactive play that teach us goals, rules, adaptation, problem solving, interaction, all represented as a story. They satisfy the personal need to learn by providing enjoyment, passionate involvement, structure, motivation, ego gratification, adrenaline, creativity, social interaction and emotion in the game itself while the learning takes place.

Every game is a learning game

The most common types of educational games are:

  • Simulations: Digital experience that is meant to simulate real-life scenarios when the real-life scenario is difficult, dangerous, or has cost restrictions.
  • Mini-Games: A short game experience existing within or alongside digital course content. Used best when reinforcing singular lesson objectives.
  • Playful Tools:  Digital tools that are meant to playfully handle logistical needs.
  • Interactives: Simple cause and effect interactions used to help the learner visualize or reinforce the key concepts.

Video Games

A video game is interactive digital entertainment that you “play” via a computer, a game console (like the Xbox or PlayStation) or a phone or tablet. They can be divided in all kinds of categories like action games, adventure games, role-playing, simulation, strategy games and sports.

James Paul Gee, professor of Literacy studies at Arizona State University, is one of the main researchers in the field of video games, learning and literacy. In Gee’s opinion a video game is just a set of problems that you must solve in order to win.

Paul Gee his vision on the role and usability of video games in learning

Game-based learning

Game-based learning is a type of game play that has defined learning outcomes. Generally, game-based learning is designed to balance subject matter with gameplay and the ability of the player to retain and apply said subject matter to the real world. Children tend to spend hours playing hide and seek, learning the steps of digital games, such as chess, and engaging in creative games. Therefore, it can be said that play and learning are synonymous, leading to cognitive and emotional development inside a social and cultural context. For instance, the game of hide and seek. Good hiders need visual and spatial perspective to define the best hiding places, while seekers must be skilled at searching for cues from the surroundings and choosing the most probable location for the hider among various possible places.

Powerful games in the classroom often include:

  • multiple levels or challenges;
  • a compelling or intriguing storyline;
  • a personalized, unique experience for each learner;
  • rewards such as unlocking certain capabilities based upon achievements;
  • additional rewards and feedback from the teacher or classroom.

Gamebased learning is often getting confused with gamification. The video of Gamelearn explains the possibilities of gamebased learning and the difference with gamification.


Gamification is the application of game thinking and game techniques in non-game environments e.g. point scoring, competition with others and rules of play. In gamification you use game elements to motivate users and enrich their experience. The principle of gamification is not new. We have been playing games for centuries. In most households video games are played nowadays. In it we experience how effective games are in seducing, gripping, motivating and binding their players. Applying these techniques in the real world is what gamification is about. Gamification is central to stimulate personal behaviour and activities based on intrinsic motivation.

What is Gamification by Karl Kapp.

Meaningful Play – Getting Gamification Right by Sebastian Deterding

The extent to which gamification can be applied can vary greatly. Very small and simple gamification techniques can generate big effects. Think of the Linkedin progress bar. A bar on your Linkedin profile that counts how many percent of your profile is filled. If you are only at 25%, that is frustrating! Linkedin recognizes that and gives you direct tips on how you can increase your status.

 If you are going to use multiple gamification techniques in the same environment. Then you get to deal with aspects like flow, just like game developers, the right balance of game techniques and the story. An educational setting where random game elements are pasted to match the intrinsic motivation of the user will not motivate but lead to frustration.

Gamification in Education


Gamifying Education – How tot Make your classroom  Truly Engaging

How to find the right game

A group of students and educators have set up a wiki called Gamifi-ed with an online encyclopaedia of educational games. Every game is tested by students and educators.  You will find it here.

Furthermore there are all kinds of online lists available of the best educational games. For example the top ten learning games for kids – here

Sources and Further reading

  • The video collection ot Further in dept study a link to the video collection of  Sebastian Deterding. – here
  • Educational game development by Raul Kubarsepp – here
  • Gamebased Learning by Martin Sillaots – University of Tallinn- here
  • The Gamification of Learning and Instruction: Game-based Methods and strategies for training and education by Karl M Kapp – here
  • Applying Gamification in an Online Course of Computer Hardware”, Master Thesis – here
  • Learning, Education and Games Volume One: Circular and Design Considerations- here