Research in Gamification of Learning and Instruction

Last week, I posted a rebuttal to Ruth Clark’s claim that “Games Don’t Teach.” In that post, I shared several links to research about the effectiveness of games for learning. If you are interested in a more in-depth review of research, Karl Kapp’s new book The Gamification of Learning and Instruction has an entire chapter titled “Research Says…Games are Effective for Learning.” This chapter focuses on two areas of the research: meta-analysis studies and research on specific elements of games.

Gamification of Learning and Instruction

Meta-analysis findings

The meta-analysis section has a useful table providing a quick summary of the major findings of each meta-analysis reviewed. Here’s a few points from that research:

  • “Game-based approach produced significant knowledge-level increases over the conventional case-based teaching methods.” (Wolfe, 1997)
  • “An instructional game will only be effective if it is designed to meet specific instructional objectives and used as it was intended.” (Hays, 2005)

In the elements of games section, Karl summarizes several individual studies and their findings in the following areas:

  • Reward structures
  • Player motivation (both intrinsic and extrinsic)
  • Avatars
  • Player perspective

Gamification in learning is often viewed very superficially as just adding extrinsic motivators like badges and leaderboards. In this book, Karl recommends going beyond that shallow understanding to look at the ways that games can be effective and to use those elements to enhance learning.
If you’re interested in more information about the book, check out the other posts in the blog book tour.


(as cited in The Gamification of Learning and Instruction)

Hays, R.T. (2005). The effectiveness of instructional games: A literature review and discussion. Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division (No 2005–004).

Wolfe, J. (1997) The effectiveness of business games in strategic management course work. Simulation & Gaming, 28(4), 360–376.

15 thoughts on “Research in Gamification of Learning and Instruction

  1. Dear Christy;
    Your work is amasing. It is helping me a lot. I have an MS in HRD and very novice in the field. How should I start a portfolio? My favorite topics: Ethics, behavior in the workplace, health issues, and diversity. I like visual and illustration and PowerPoint is my favorite tool. Please advise.
    Thank you.

    1. Here’s my post on creating a portfolio to help you get started. You could just pick one of your favorite topics and create a course. A rapid development tool like Captivate or Articulate would be best for your course, but if you’re a pro at PowerPoint you can create something that doesn’t just look like slides with bullet points. Add that to any sample from your past work or masters program.

  2. Christy,
    Thanks for being a stop on the Blog Book tour. It never ceases to amaze me how much mis-information there happens to be about games for learning. I think because many people are passionate about games for learning…other people become passionate about not using games for learning.
    There are at least a half-a-dozen meta-analysis studies (studies of studies) that show that individuals can and do learn from games. In fact, Hays (2005) study indicates “research has shown that some games can provide effective learning for a variety of learners for several different tasks (e.g., math, attitudes, electronics, and economics)”
    Ke (2009) conducted a meta-analysis study that found the effects of learning with games was positive in 52% of the studies.
    Stizmann (2011) found that declarative knowledge, procedural knowledge and retention were all higher than traditional instruction with simulation-games.
    Wolfe (1997) found a game-based approach produced significant knowledge level increases over conventional teaching methods.
    Vogel (2006) found cognitive gains observed in subjects utilizing interactive simulations or games.
    The preponderance of evidence from the research leads to the conclusion that games can facilitated learning. Do they always 100% of the time facilitate learning–NO. But neither do other forms of instruction.
    So the question is not “Do games teach?” Clearly and upon a firm research-base–games teach! There is a great deal of empirical evidence to make that claim.
    What is less when known and, quite frankly more important, is how do they teach? And in what situations might a game be more effective than lecture-based or other more traditional instruction?
    In these cases, the jury is still out but, what we do know from the evidence is that interactions lead to learning. We know that games that have interactions lead to learning. And we know that when compared to many classroom deliveries and online deliveries of instruction, games have more interactions. We know that learning comes from timely feedback. We know that timely feedback is more prevalent in games than in most traditional instruction. We know that learners are motivated when they are confronted with a challenge. Most games start with a challenge, most traditional learning formats do not.
    The answer is that games naturally contain elements that lead to learning where traditionally designed instruction doesn’t typically contain those item. It doesn’t mean it can’t but usually, if we are honest with ourselves, e-learning or classroom instruction starts the learning process with objectives, not challenges. It provides people with bulleted lists, not interactivity and it provides feedback at the end of the learning process not during instruction.
    So, if you compare the best classroom or elearning design to game design, I’d say there is a tie. Well designed instruction doesn’t have to have a game. But it does have to contain the same elements that most games naturally contain. What would a game be without a challenge, without feedback on progress and without interactivity…it would be a typical e-learning class…that’s what’d it’d be.
    So gamification forces a designer to think about interactivity, challenge and continuous feedback. On the other hand ISD prompts one to think about objectives, bulleted lists and multiple choice questions.
    Evidence-based practice clearly points toward using gamification as a way of thinking about designing instruction.
    NOTE: Games do not have to equal technology. Games can be played in traditional classrooms with paper and pencil and other simple interactions. The master of that of course is Dr. Sivasailam “Thiagi” Thiagaraja. So we must not always mix games with technology. The two exist separately.

    1. I think much of the misinformation on games for learning seems to come from knee-jerk reactions: “games are violent or just fluff and fun and therefore bad for learning.” Reporting on research in all learning is often oversimplified, not just reporting on games research. I think there is an issue of learning professionals just not really delving deeply into any research.
      On the other hand, it doesn’t help when you have respected researchers making such stretched or untrue claims. I got a copy of the actual research that Clark summarized in her post. Overall, those researchers were much more realistic in the applications of their research, and they acknowledged that this study is not generally applicable to all situations.
      However, they also include this statement in their conclusion:
      “Clark et al. (2010) summarized the empirical results in the game literature: ‘All of the studies that have been published in reputable journals have reached a negative conclusion about learning from games’ (p. 269).”
      Really? That must be an awfully narrow definition of “reputable journal.” My guess is that Clark (that’s Richard, not Ruth here) excluded all journals that had positive results as being not reputable. As you have clearly shown, there certainly is research showing positive results for games, when they are designed to meet learning outcomes, supported by instructional materials, and used appropriately. There’s certainly much more research to be done on how to develop and use games effectively, but we have good positive results to build on.
      Clark, R. E., Yates, K., Early, S., & Moulton, K. (2010). An analysis of the failure of electronic media and discovery-based learning: Evidence for the performance benefits of guided training methods. In K. H. Silber & W. R. Foshay (Eds.), Handbook of improving performance in the workplace (pp. 263–297). San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Leave a Reply