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Digital Game Based Learning

an introduction
by Video Games Without Borders

Game based learning (GBL) is a type of game play that has defined learning outcomes.

Digital game based learning (DGBL) refers to using actual digital video games as learning tools.

GBL is NOT gamification

Game-based learning should not be confused with gamification.

Gamification takes an element of education and replaces it with a game-based element. For instance, a teacher may replace grades with levels or experience points.

VideoGame types

several types of games may be used in digital game-based learning:

  • Educational Games: use an engaging and immersive learning experience to deliver specified learning goals, outcomes and experiences.
  • Online Games: range from simple text-based games to games that span complex, virtual worlds used by large numbers of players simultaneously.
  • Serious Games: train or educate users; generally, serious games have a primary purpose other than entertainment.
  • Simulations: model real-world situations.

DGBL Domains

  • Language Learning
  • Mathematics and Science (STEM)
  • Social Studies and History
  • Development of Cognitive Skills


  • A safe environment to explore and in which to make mistakes
  • Learning through enjoyment and "fun"
  • Contextualised, goal oriented instead of abstract learning
  • Experiential learning: learning by doing
  • Intrinsic motivation: playing is voluntary and self-driven
  • Seamless accountability and feedback
  • Combine audio, graphics and movement into an interactive and immersive environment
  • Age and culture appropriate


  • A fictional or real world setting
  • Progressive difficulty levels and appropriate challenge
  • Immediate and constructive feedback
  • A social element that allows people to share experience and build bonds
  • Clear, achievable goals, rules, measurable outcomes and rewards


Games bring together combination of motivating elements not found together in any other medium.


  • are a form of fun -> enjoyment and pleasure
  • are a form of play -> intense and passionate involvement
  • are rules -> structure
  • are goals -> motivation
  • are interactive -> doing
  • are adaptive -> flow
  • have outcomes and feedback -> learning
  • have a win state -> ego gratification
  • have conflict/competition/challenge/opposition -> adrenaline
  • have problem solving -> sparks creativity
  • have peer interaction -> social groups
  • have characters and story -> emotions

36 Learning principles in VideoGames

1. Active, Critical Learning Principle All aspects of the the learning environment are set up to encourage active and critical, not passive, learning
2. Design Principle Appreciating good design
3. Semiotic Principle Seeing interrelations within and across multiple sign systems (images, words, actions, symbols, artifacts, etc.) as a complex system is core to the learning experience
4. Semiotic Domains Principle Mastering game languages and participation in the affinity groups connected to them
5. Metalevel Thinking About Semiotic Domains Principle Relating the game world to other worlds
6. "Psychosocial Moratorium" Principle Taking risks with reduced consequences
7. Committed Learning Principle Putting out effort because they care
8. Identity Principle Combining multiple identities
9. Self-Knowledge Principle Watching their own behaviour and their current and potential capacities
10. Amplification Of Input Principle For a little input, learners get a lot of output
11. Achievement Principle intrinsic rewards from the beginning, customised to each learner's level, effort, and growing mastery and signaling the learner's ongoing achievements
12. Practice Principle Being encouraged to practice in a context where the practice is not boring
13. Ongoing Learning Principle Having to master new skills at each level, with cycles of new learning, automatization, undoing automatization, and new re-organized automatization
14. "Regime Of Competence" Principle Tasks being neither too easy nor too hard.
15. Probing Principle Learning is a cycle of probing the world (doing something); reflecting in and on this action and, on this basis, forming a hypothesis; reprobing the world to test this hypothesis; and then accepting or rethinking the hypothesis
16. Multiple Routes Principle There are multiple ways to make progress or move ahead. This allows learners to make choices, rely on their own strengths and styles of learning and problem-solving, while also exploring alternative styles
17. Situated Meaning Principle Discovering meaning of signs (words, actions, objects, artifacts, symbols, texts, etc.) situated in embodied experience
18. Text Principle Texts are not understood purely verbally but are understood in terms of embodied experience
19. Intertextual Principle Relating information
20. Multimodal Principle Meshing information from multiple media (images, texts, symbols, interactions, abstract design, sound, etc.), not just words
21. "Material Intelligence" Principle Understanding how knowledge is stored in material objects and the environment
22. Intuitive Knowledge Principle Intuitive or tacit knowledge built up in repeated practice and experience. Not just verbal and conscious knowledge is rewarded
23. Subset Principle Practicing in a simplified setting
24. Incremental Principle Being led from easy problems to harder ones
25. Concentrated Sample Principle Mastering upfront things needed later
26. Bottom-Up Basic Skills Principle Repeating basic skills in many games
27. Explicit Information On-Demand Just-In-Time Principle Receiving information just when it is needed
28. Discovery Principle Experiments and Trying rather than following instructions
29. Transfer Principle Applying learning from problems to later ones
30. Cultural Models About The World Principle Thinking about the game and the real world
31. Cultural Models About Learning Principle Thinking about the game and how they learn
32. Cultural Models About Semiotic Domains Thinking about the games and their culture
33. Distributed Principle Meaning/knowledge is distributed across the learner, objects, tools, symbols, technologies, and the environment
34. Dispersed Principle Sharing knowledge with others outside the domain/game
35. Affinity Group Principle Being part of the gaming world and affinity groups bonded by the game and not shared race, gender, nation, ethnicity, or culture
36. Insider Principle Helping others and modifying games, in addition to just playing


Flow emotions


DGBL approach

  • introduction to videogame (+coach: tech + expectations)
  • gameplay / experience (autonomous)
  • game results / scores (autonomous)
  • reflection / analysis (+coach)
  • forming abstract concepts + real world application

Coach Skills

  • ICT / Basic Digital Skills
  • Minimal game playing experience
  • Deep understanding of how a game can help learning and its differences with a classic book/course
  • Recognise different players skills and support their game play
  • Engage students in playing and progression


Using games for assessment is more than games scores.

Assessment happens around a game more often than it happens inside the game, and teachers/coaches must still design and provide authentic, useful assessment tasks for students.

Development options

  • Use entertainment/commercial games (Assassin's Creed / Civilization)
  • Modify entertainment games (Kerbal Space Academy)
  • Use virtual worlds (Minecraft)
  • Use educational games (MinecraftEdu)
  • Create games (Antura)
  • Students create games

Domain Expert

Game Model

Objectives of learning analytics

GBL challenges

Curriculum: identify how a certain game can connect to the curriculum.

Game related: identify the accuracy and appropriateness of the content of the game. Irrelevant or distracting content from the game that could not be removed.

Attitudes: persuading all stakeholders and non-players about the educational value of the game.

Educators and Teachers support: make them aware of how to use games more effectively in education.

Assessment: Traditional assessments do not often align with GBL, so new models and approaches must be considered.

Developers encourage and support game developers in the creation of better educational games