Game-based learning helps students acquire 21st-century skills

  • Google’s Interland teaches kids how to use the internet in the safest way possible
  • PuzzleMap makes learning geography fun and enjoyable
  • Legends of Learning developed over 1,500 educational games for elementary and middle school students
  • Biomedical students can learn about HIV type 1 through interactive gameplay
  • The benefits and challenges of educational games
  • Are games the future of education?

The education system in most countries hasn’t changed in decades. However, rapid technological advancements demand that the workforce is fluent in new tech, which means that education systems need to adapt and respond accordingly. What’s more, teachers are struggling to deliver their lessons effectively when using ‘old means’ to teach ‘the new’. And to make matters even worse, when student engagement is low, it’s even more difficult for educators to capture students’ attention. To change this, teachers are implementing a more engaging approach to acquiring knowledge – game-based learning.

Though online games are usually seen as a source of entertainment, some games are designed to help students acquire knowledge and develop skills that are essential for their future jobs. Highly engaging, such a learning process is more fun, and students are more motivated to accomplish their goals. Without even realising it, students can solve problems and improve their learning outcomes by playing a game that can be completed in a couple of minutes.

Metaari predicts that the global game-based industry revenue will reach $17 billion by 2023. The same source also reports that 80 per cent of the industry's revenue in 2018 came from North America and the Asia-Pacific region.
An infographic showing the global game-based learning industry revenue in 2023, and the regions responsible for the highest revenue in the industry in 2018.

As more and more schools become interested in this approach, the game-based learning industry is becoming a growing market. In fact, it’s predicted that revenue from the global game-based learning industry will exceed $17 billion by 2023. Metaari reports that most of the revenue for game-based learning in 2018 came from the Asia-Pacific region and North America – as much as 80 per cent.

Google’s Interland teaches kids how to use the internet in the safest way possible

To help kids learn how to make smart decisions on the internet, Google developed an interactive video game called Interland. According to Tech Age Kids,an online platform for parents and educators teaching kids how to use the internet safely shouldn’t be neglected in schools. It’s just as important as any other skill needed to thrive in today’s world. The game is available for free, and it can be accessed from any computer or tablet. Interland consists of four mini games, and in each one, the player needs to complete different activities.

For instance, in Mindful Mountain, children learn about the importance of sharing information online only with the people they trust. The second game, Tower of Treasure, teaches young students how to create strong passwords to protect their personal data. Kind Kingdom is designed to encourage children to be kind to others on the internet, and the last mini game, Reality River, teaches players to detect fake people and phishers on the internet. After kids complete each game, they get a certificate of achievement, which can be easily downloaded. Since we’re living in internet-dependent world, it’s important to be aware of the dangers lurking on the internet, and that’s what Google had in mind when creating Interland.

PuzzleMap makes learning geography fun and enjoyable

Besides teaching kids how to behave on the internet, games can also improve their geo-literacy. This inspired the software engineer Fred Newcomer to develop a game-based program named PuzzleMap. Newcomer, who’s the CEO of SpherAware, a company focused on promoting geo-literacy, wanted to offer teachers a better way to develop students’ geographic literacy. So, he joined forces with his daughter, a Washington State University Tri-Cities professor, Sarah Newcomer.

The Newcomers realised that students aren’t really good in geography. With Google Maps and GPS, it’s now easier to move around, but these innovations come with downsides. Since we rely so much on technology to navigate, most of us aren’t able to independently explore a city or a different country. To thrive in an increasingly global society, we need to know more about the world we live in. Without geo-literacy, we can’t understand other complex issues. For instance, how can we understand the migration crisis in Europe if we don’t know the regions from which the refugees came? Nowadays, students need to acquire spatial reasoning skills to better understand the world. It’s not rare to hear that some of the most powerful leaders in the world lack basic geography knowledge. For instance, back in 2016, the US President Donald Trump, who was a Republican presidential candidate at that time, said “Belgium is a beautiful city.” A year later, while holding a speech at the UN, President Trump made up the country of “Nambia”.

To help students avoid similar mistakes, PuzzleMap makes learning geography fun and enjoyable. This platform transforms online web maps into interactive puzzles. The game features geographic areas that are randomly scattered across the screen. Students can rotate and move the pieces around to find the correct position on the map. They can also use clues such as informative facts on population and climate. PuzzleMap was tested among students in the Tri-Cities area in southeastern Washington. It’s been reported that the test scores of students who used PuzzleMap together with their social studies increased by up to 12 per cent compared to those who didn’t use the game.

Legends of Learning developed over 1,500 educational games for elementary and middle school students

There’s a variety of innovative educational games on the market. A company specialising in educational games for teachers, Legends of Learning, offers more than 1,500 educational games created for elementary and middle school students. All games are based on academic research conducted in collaboration with Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. The research involved 1,000 students with different socioeconomic backgrounds. As part of the research, Legends of Learning released a study, revealing that student engagement and academic performance can increase when game-based learning is implemented. “Using games in a school setting seemed like an idea that could work, one that is modern and meets students on their terms. We tested this hypothesis and built a unique platform with games that support students’ learning,” says the company’s founder and CEO, Vadim Polikov.

The Legends of Learning platform allows teachers to “pick a subject, create a playlist within that subject and give their students access from their computers”. Polikov says that the ultimate goal for Legends of Learning “is to reach all grades and all subjects, and move into higher education, adult education and corporate training — everything from sixth grade photosynthesis to college-level calculus to financial literacy for homeowners”.

Biomedical students can learn about HIV type 1 through interactive gameplay

Using games as an educational tool isn’t just reserved for younger students. Higher education facilities could harness the same innovation to improve student learning outcomes. For this reason, a team from the Institute for Molecular Medicine and Infectious Disease at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, developed an educational mini-game called CD4 Hunter. The game, suitable for biomedical science in higher education, introduces students to the world of infectious diseases such as human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1). Through interactive gameplay, students learn about HIV-1’s replication cycle and how the immune system fights the infection. CD4 Hunter is designed to meet several learning objectives. It should teach students how to identify the basic elements of HIV-1, learn the role of its target cells, and identify molecules found on the surface of HIV-1.

Sandra Urdaneta-Hartmann, an assistant professor at Drexel University, who worked on the game’s development and helped to introduce it into biomedical school courses, says that the game is a lot different than the simulations commonly used in biomedical education. Through simulations, students can visualise a concept, but they can’t experience it or take part in it. When it comes to introducing the game to students, teachers can opt for “discussing the content in class and assigning the game as homework after, or using a flipped model, by assigning the game and asking students to come prepared with questions and discussions [sic] topics.”

The benefits and challenges of educational games

Although game-based learning hasn’t become the norm yet, its benefits shouldn’t be overlooked. Incorporating games into lessons is particularly useful for STEM education. The Leveraging Game-Based Learning for STEM Education: The Benefits of Non-Linear Instruction whitepaper reveals some of its benefits. For instance, games are a great way to encourage scientific thinking. They place students into situations where they need to test strategies and learn to master new skills. This is more effective than traditional STEM lessons, which are usually taught quantitatively, and students aren’t given a lot of opportunity to engage in the lesson and share their opinions.

When designing an educational game, developers need to make sure that it meets learning outcomes. A game that’s poorly designed will be too easy or too difficult for students, and it will make the entire learning process repetitive or frustrating. On the other hand, a well-designed game encourages its players to try harder to win. Players will feel motivated to discover new things. Such a game provides instant feedback and gives everyone a chance to win. Skill development takes time, so it’s important for the game to regularly engage students to encourage them to continue improving their skills.

Are games the future of education?

Learning isn’t just about remembering facts and figures. To survive and thrive in the future, students need to acquire the necessary skills. Innovative approaches to learning make this possible. Students can now learn through games and develop skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, problem-solving, and communication. They can interact with their peers within the game space and learn from each other. Besides learning, games can improve teaching as well. By including games into the lesson, teachers are able to grab students’ attention and fully engage them in the learning process. As more educators recognise these benefits, we can expect to see wider adoption of game-based lessons in the future.

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