Are There Benefits To Game Based Learning? My answer may surprise you!

benefits game based learning

The benefits game based learning is showing is making it more difficult to deny the fact that this may be the new form of education (or at least part of it).  You may be surprised by this post since this site is all about “learning through play” or “play based learning”; and I often go on about limiting the use of electronics.  Don’t worry, I still believe that young children learn best through interactive, hands on play.  But I will explain that there are benefits to game based learning as well!

Click here to see my #1 recommendation for play based learning!

The Many Forms Of Game Based Learning

Yes, I am talking about video games or digital games.  Nowadays, children are exposed to digital games pretty much from

baby playing computer games

photo credit: Romero

the time they can hold their parent’s cell phones. How often have you seen a baby in a stroller swiping and tapping away on mommy’s cell phone with a big grin.  Games offer rewards for certain achievements and all humans respond very well to rewards, which makes them want to keep playing.   A baby that taps an image of a door on the screen of her dad’s phone is rewarded when the door opens and a cow appears that says “moo”.   The baby will then continue this behavior in order to keep getting the rewards (cause and effect).

There are many different forms of game based learning, including the example I gave above (basic cause and effect games for babies and toddlers).  There are also games that put what you might find in a textbook into a game, for example, solving math problems.   Each time a problem is solved correctly a reward is given.   This type of learning can be done just as easily with traditional methods – pen, paper and stickers as the reward.

Another type of game based learning is simulator learning.  This type of game involves simulating a real life scenario such as flying a plane or driving a transport truck.  These types of games are great for teaching skills that cannot be taught  through lectures and text books alone.  You can read all you want about the rules of the road but until you are behind the wheel of a huge transport truck, reading won’t help with much.

Finally there are traditional video games such as World of Warcraft (adults) or Skylanders (kids).  These games are typically played for enjoyment, however they do teach some important skills such as problem solving as well as team work (depending on the game).

Are there benefits to game based learning in education?

Yes, I do believe the benefits game based learning is showing are valid.  However, I do want to state that when I talk about benefits to game based learning, I am talking about older children and even adults.  I do not believe that there are benefits that cannot be taught through traditional play and toys when it comes to babies, toddlers and even early elementary aged children.

For example, a baby or toddler can be taught cause and effect through pop up toys such as a jack in the box, or by playing a simple game such as peek-a-boo.  When first starting to learn, human interaction and hands on learning through toys is essential!

Children growing up in the 2000’s have been exposed to technology and electronics since birth.  Therefore, the way they think and process information is probably fundamentally different from the way people thought before the rise of technology.

Yet, when we look at older children and adolescents, teaching them via game based learning may be a move in the right direction.  As I mentioned earlier, humans are motivated by rewards.  If a game is set up well, to teach many skills, students will want to keep playing (or learning) in order to continue to be rewarded.

Specific benefits to game based learning

  • more engaging and motivating than traditional lecture style teaching that encourages memorization of content without putting the content into practice

    car simulator game

    photo credit: Zacharzewski

  • can be customized to meet the needs of each student
  • gives the teacher instant access to student progress
  • puts learned content into practice as opposed to just regurgitating facts onto paper (think final exam)
  • can promote long term memory skills through practical experiences
  • can aid in the development of more advanced vocabulary and mental quickness (reaction time)
  • can be advantageous for certain special needs populations
  • more cost effective than “hands on training”
  • low physical risk
  • increased hand eye coordination
  • highly engaging due to reward systems in games
  • the best games for learning are simulation, role playing and non-violent adventures

Drawbacks to game based learning

A teacher must still be present to facilitate game based learning.  They still need to teach, but not in the traditional sense of the word (lecturing and quizzing students on how much content they retained).  Games can also be quite addictive for some and therefore game based learning should only be used to supplement traditional learning where it is appropriate.

Right now there are still some schools that do not have budgets for game based learning.  This is not something that every child will get as part of their education.  Teachers also need to evaluate the games for appropriateness of the content due to the cultural diversity in many schools.

Additionally, games are always being upgraded, so schools (most likely the principal) will need to keep purchasing newer versions of a game in order for it to work properly.

Final thoughts on game based learning

As I mentioned at the start of this article I do believe that the benefits game based learning is showing is something to consider when it comes to the education of older children.  Technology is all around us and using it to our advantage might be the way to go.

Technology can help one learn, but one also has to learn about technology as it is never constant. Technology and thus game based learning, is always changing.

There is no question, game based learning teaches some essential skills such as problem solving and working together to achieve a goal.  My son loves Skylanders and Super Mario Bros.  As he is only 6, so we still limit his time with video games (screen time in general) quite a bit.  However,  it impresses me to watch him play.  Yes, he knows the names of all of the characters in these games and the entire story of the Skylanders. However, knowing the content (character names and the story) alone is not what will allow him to win.  It is learning the ins and outs of the game and solving problems as they arise that will make him victorious!children playing computer games at school

What are your thoughts on the benefits of game based learning?  Do you think there are benefits or do you feel we should stick with a more traditional style of learning?

For some great information on game based learning and technology in education, take a look at the many articles written by Jordan Shapiro.


  1. Suzanne

    Board games are a great way for kids to learn and they often teach themselves through tabletop games. There’s a study done on the benefits of Chutes & Ladders and math skills. One of my favorites is Skippity, which helps develop spatial reasoning. Clue is great for learning reasoning skills also.

    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Thanks Suzanne. I wasn’t aware that Chutes & Ladders helps with math skills. That is very interesting. We play board games such as Settlers of Catan and Telestrations with the kids. They enjoy both of these. And UNO!

  2. Andrea

    My kids learn a lot from playing Minecraft. They learn math skills as well as social skills. I homeschool my kids so they tend to get a lot of their social time online. They have met some really good friends through Minecraft. I don’t like them to spend too many hours in front of the computer though, and I do make them get off and do other things like go outside, or draw, or cook.

    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Thanks for your comment Andrea. Sounds like you have a good plan and there are lots of different ways for your kids to learn!

  3. Neil

    I agree with you when it comes to babies and very young children that more traditional methods of teaching may be better. Numerous times I have seen a toy given to a child that comes packed in a box and the child would put the toy aside and rather play with the box because it fires their imagination. Regarding older kids I think technology definitely has a place in learning. I heard on the news about a charity called OneBillion who developed an app that runs on tablet PCs. These were given to kids from Malawi in Africa for half hour a day that enabled them to learn a level of maths in 6 weeks that would normally take 12 – 18 months via traditional teaching.

    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi Neil,

      I completely agree with your comment about young children being more interested in a toy’s packaging than the toy itself. My kids are now 6 and 7 (almost 8) and they are still fascinated with cardboard boxes. Check out Children Playing With Cardboard to see some of their creations!

      I have not OneBillion. It sounds very interesting. I will have to look that up. And the fact that these children could learn math in 6 weeks via game based learning that would have taken 12-18 weeks using traditional methods is pretty phenomenal.

      Once children have certain skills in place (building blocks or foundations as I like to call them), then I think game based learning has many benefits!

  4. Florence Ki

    I am a firm believer of game based learning. Only via this way are children able to learn the holistic way. I don’t believe formal education or classroom based learning can fully explore a child’s full potential. Thank you for sharing. Now I can really show my friends and share this thought.

    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Thanks for your comment Florence. I agree that game based learning has it’s place. However, as I mentioned in the article, it has to be used in combination with some traditional teaching methods for game based learning to be effective. A teacher still needs to be there to teach and facilitate. And, game based learning should be reserved for older children. Play based learning is still the best method for babies, toddlers, preschoolers and early school aged children to successfully learn!

  5. Jeff

    Game based learning seems like a great idea. Kids are exposed to all kinds of electronics and technology these days, so I guess there might as well be some learning elements to it.

    I still remember a couple of years ago when I was waiting at the dentist office, and some small child was trying to scroll through a newspaper like it was a smart phone!

    1. Tanya (Post author)

      I agree Jeff, game based learning can be be a good idea, but it has to be executed properly. And it cannot take the place of traditional education. It should be seen as an “extra” or an enhancement.

      Children still need learn through traditional methods. They need to know how to hold a book and flip the pages, not just tough a picture and hope it will make a sound (as the child in the dentist office was probably doing).


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