Game-based learning is an active learning experience with clear objectives and measurable outcomes designed to be intrinsically game-like. The game is the learning experience, ideally set in a real-world context. Game-based learning often involves learning through errors along a mastery approach, which supports the development of a Learner Mindset. Research on game-based learning shows it can support Motivation, engagement, complex Problem Solving, and social emotional skills such as Self-regulation.
Within the context of digital game-based learning, the relationship between Motivation, cognition, and Problem Solving competencies is complex. Since design features of a game can affect learners' self-efficacy and perceived competence, it is important to consider product development through the lens of learners' mental effort, cognitive load, decision-making, and other Self-regulation processes. In game-based learning, the content is learned through the process of playing a game (i.e. board game, outdoor game, or digital game). Design is thus a critical element in the potential success of game-based learning, especially if gamification elements are involved. A good example of a game-based environment is a digital breakout experience in which clues are gathered through a series of immersive learning challenges then combined to unlock or escape a final space.
Game-based learning is different from gamification. Gamification involves integrating game elements like point systems, leaderboards, badges, and other elements related to games into traditional learning activities. Research on the benefits of gamification is mixed, since persuasive technology leading to manipulation can be integrated but should be avoided especially when instructing adult learners from marginalized populations. Gamification should be utilized carefully with purpose and caution based on the unique aspects of the learners and the context to avoid overuse of extrinsic motivators. When gamification is linked to points and scores, it promotes competition, which can have negative effects on learning such as increasing Stereotype Threat, triggering Adverse Experiences, and decreasing intrinsic Motivation required to develop a Learner Mindset. Product design that allows learners to toggle competitive features off, or includes them on a page separate from the learning would best support learner variability.
To support Metacognition, system designers should consider three specific dimensions of training design. First, learner-controlled training, which allows the learners to decide when and how training proceeds and what is being trained, supports metacognitive thinking while system-controlled training usually does not. A game could incorporate a structured reflection journal to allow a learner to record learning and thinking which is more self-initiated than being prompted by the system at intermittent times. Second, when designing games that involve fantasy, it is important to understand that too much fantasy can inhibit learning and Metacognition, since it is harder to transfer in-game learning to real-world situations. However, incorporating metaphors and analogies can bridge metacognitive thinking from the fantasy world to reality. Third, incentive systems should reward effort and new strategy use rather than performance to foster a Learner Mindset.
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