Game Based Learning – Start Here.

This post presents there ares of consideration, and what to consider when thinking about using a computer or video game as the technological environment for game based learning. It might help you think of how to evaluate various games in pre-selection. Please note that I don’t believe game based learning needs a video game at all, but many people have asked me “which games” and on what devices and platforms, so I hope this helps to start a conversation and thinking critically about the options you might have. To me, making games ‘okay’ is a win – but there’s little cudos in using educational games alone – so really here I’m talking about commercial titles.

Choosing your game

  • Browser compatibility? – Which browsers can they be played on? Many of your students will want to play the games you’re offering on their desktop and laptop computers. If the game you wish to use is accessed from a browser, you need to check that students have access to it – and it functions beforehand.
  • Plugins or software required? – You’ll want to know just how complex the game is. Do students need to download software in order to view them? Will the game pass through the firewall (the number one reason games are kept out of learning). Does the game need to authenticate to the Internet – even if it is actually installed on the local machine.
  • Device compatibility? – Not all games can be played on all devices. You’ll want to know which devices can be used so that you can prepare to support them. For example: Minecraft on the PC is quite different to Minecraft on an Ipad or Xbox. Many ‘app’ games, designed for mobile platforms have no equivalent on the PC or OSX Apple platform. So consider when and were the game will be played – what group sizes, level of supervision and so on – this will help you select the best device for you to use as a game platform – it might not be the one you think of first.
  • Do they play games? – Many students don’t play video or computer games. Some don’t like them, some are not allowed – you can’t assume all kids love video and computer games. Find out what games they do play … you may find from this you decide not to use a video game at all, but start to think about using your classroom as a game-space, and in doing so might create a role-play, use dice … all manner of alternatives. Don’t assume games based learning means video and computer games.
  • Data Collection? – Consider what data the game will collect (be that a video game or not).  Computer and Video Games collect a stack of data – some of it more useful than others. Consider, when choosing a game – what metrics you need and what would be great to have. This is one reason I like Minecraft on a server – it’s dripping in data, where as on an ad-hock LAN or iPAD, I get far less data – almost none in fact. Next consider what data the game is sending where. You need to make sure your students don’t accidentally push data to public spaces, if your school is against it (and in reality, most have no policy or idea about game-data)  yet.


You’ll want to get to the heart of things by asking specific questions about the features and functionality that  your students need. I see game based learning emerging most strongly from a social emotional learning perspective, so the functionality I think matters most looks like this.

  • Can students play without overt supervision? Learning in GBL is fundamentally about trust between the teacher and the student. If you don’t feel you can trust them – then let me assure you they will not trust you when you say they are going to learn by playing games. It’s a total deal breaker – if kids can’t play without overt supervision in the game and platform you choose – then the experience will be always be less.
  • Is the role for the teacher as a ‘trusted adult’ or as a supervisior?Can you afford the time to police a game inside or outside of it? What is the imperative you MUST be there (and that is a MAJOR question, as I don’t believe you should be in THEIR game – but I’ve worked out how and why over a few years, so you’ll need to resolve it too).
  • Single player Mutli-player cop-opt or Multiplayer use? This ranges widely according to e-Book vendor. Some packages offer unlimited use of e-Books meaning that any number of readers can view and download the same e-Book at the same time while others only offer single use of e-Books, similar to a print title being checked out. There are also variants that will offer a limited number of users at once.
  • Sales/Pricing Model? – can I buy bulk licenses for the game? Do I need to get game cards? How to I manage user accounts? Does the school own them? Do the kids own them? Are there educational pricing (warning educational games are not the BEST examples of games at all)
  • Game fees and Server costs (Annual, one-time, etc.) – There is most often a platform fee and it’s usually annual or monthly so you’ll want to find out how much this is. Don’t get caught by ‘free’ or ‘self-host’. Take Minecraft for example, to self-host is indeed free only, but when you cost in the time it takes to build, manage and stay in tune with modifications and changes, buying into managed hosting will work out substantially less in my experience.
  • Cost of the game Games are on many platforms and devices, all with very different price points. I have created games using cheap 20 sided dice and free online Interactive Fiction creation sites for a few dollars – I’ve also created them using virtual worlds with server rentals of thousands of dollars. There are many games, such as Myst or those on the game platform Steam which cost a few dollars – so in may ways games are inexpensive compared to other classroom software.

Training and development.

Game Based Learning is not one thing and there is a lack of agreement in what it is. This is not surprising, as for decades scholars have also disagreed what games and what they do. There are workable taxonomies, ways to plat a series of lessons, how to create wonder, foster creativity, self-discovery and so on. The best training you can do is to play games – seriously – download something like World of Warcraft and play the entire free trial. Block out a day and grind away – taking notes about how the game is teaching you. This process can take a while – so think about getting someone to come and do some training and development – take a short cut. You will still need to play, but knowing why and what to look makes it easier. DO NOT GO TO ONE OF THESE DIDACTIC COMMERCIAL COURSES EVER. They are hopeless, only there to make money – and are a total waste of money.