Review of the research on educational usage of games
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Review of the research on educational usage of games PhD student Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen IT-University Copenhagen 4. December 2003, ITU.

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Review of the research on educational usage of games PhD student Simon Egenfeldt-NielsenIT-University CopenhagenGame-research.com4. December 2003, ITU

“…develop games which contain advanced content, operate according to sound pedagogical principles, enable classroom customisation, and create real excitement within the core game market”

- Henry Jenkins


Masters Degree in Psychology

PhD Student at IT-University of Copenhagen,

Written two Danish books and several articles on computer games and learning.

Earlier consulting: Framfab, Incircle, EQ, Game-Research.


Educational potential of commercial games.

Exploration is a intrinsic part of computer games.

Empirical study of Europa Universalis II based on earlier research in games and learning.

Background for review
Background for review

Research on non-electronic games and learning.

Long research tradition since 1960s. Slowed done in 80’s.

Some of the research dated – still games will be games.

Simulation main researched genre:

43 simulation games, 26 other, 10 adventure, 4 puzzles, and 1 experimental(Dempsey et al., 1996)

Use it for digital games research!

A framework for the review
A framework for the review

  • Learning environment: What properties of a learning environment have a bearing on the learning outcome, and what variables are important.

  • Personal learning factors: What personal factors can play a role for the learning outcome of a specific game experience, and how significant is the impact.

  • Learning outcome: What are the effects of using games for learning within different areas and in relation to different domains of learning.

The learning environment
The learning environment

Most researched (and used) area:

46 social studies

8 studies within math

6 in language arts

3 in biology

1 in physics.

Primary, secondary, tertiary education

Environment is usually a school setting although this may be the “worse” place.

Important elements in learning environment
Important elements in learning environment

  • Clear evidence for increased motivation and interest when using games

  • Enthusiasm about debriefing but evidence is still lacking

  • School setting problematic in regard to time, space, (curriculum), learning theory

  • Instructor with experience with the games used, skilled in administering the game, desire to use the game, role scripts in the class, know debriefing, evaluate different games, and be aware of the physical limits in school.

Personal learning factors
Personal learning factors

Dempsey et al. (1996:12) finds that in reality studies are "very unclear in reporting these characteristics”.

Most frequently reported variables were gender, age, academic ability, and to some degree race.

Games may be able to reach less advantaged student groups but it depends on other factors as well - especially prior attitude of the student towards the game plays a role.

Group cohesion is quite important for the performance in a game environment, and remains relatively stable as the game progress

In reality little is known about if some people benefit more of games.

Learning outcome a procrustean bed
Learning outcome: A Procrustean bed

How can we measure the learning effect of games on users?

Needs to be qualified with: "For what purpose, under what conditions, and how can we be sure." (Bredemeier & Greenblat, 1981:307).

Several claims over the years have been hard to document:

(ex. EUII)

  • Games are dynamic

  • In a school context: class composition, group dynamics

  • Methods for measuring

  • General method flaws

    Most problems have been clear from early on but continue to influence the research.

Learning outcome variables
Learning outcome variables

As a minimum the following variable should be assessed:

  • Substantive learning (cognitive and affective)

  • Students and teacher relation

  • Motivation to learn

    These are present in most current studies.

Learning outcome cognitive affective
Learning outcome: Cognitive & Affective

“In some instances games seem to be more appropriate for affective learning, while cognitive learning in general is found to be as good as other teaching methods (excluding retention over time)”

Games seems to increase retention over time.

Problem solving is the most researched learning outcome followed by attitudes. This imply that in general much of the research have been aimed at identifying learning outcome in more overall competences, and not necessarily the learning outcome of facts and concepts.

Ending remarks
Ending remarks

Games have been used in practical all settings and little is still known. Still we know where to look.

Problem that games are a dynamic object – we are never sure if we are testing a bad game, game experience or instructor.

Research on non-electronic games for learning has a lot to offer.

Discussion questions

Questions, comments or consulting.

[email protected] or [email protected]

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