10 Important Research Findings on Games in Education

This post is based on the keynote presented by Constance Steinkuhler at the Games For Change Festival.
See the whole Games For Change series of posts. Portions of this post were also reposted on the Classcraft Blog and on EdSurge.

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  1. Games, specifically those with simulation components, provide a 23% gain over traditional learning. 2013 research shows that games can increase learning outcomes by two grade levels.
  2. Co-play is better. A study on motivation shows that when kids play together, outcomes are improved by 2 standard deviations.
  3. intrinsic motivation is greater than extrinsic motivationContent should be married to game mechanics. A great 2011 study shows that games are powerful motivators, but they function better when the learning is the playful part and not just a side note. See more in my discussions about what makes a good game and intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation for more information.
  4. Games are more powerful combined with paratexts. A 2011 examination of simulation games shows that the text surrounding games aids, when combined with the game, in improving student outcomes more than the game alone.
  5. Screen Shot 2017-07-31 at 12.44.30 PMAction games enhance attentional control. A 2012 study demonstrates that games are even effective at training us how to learn and shapes our attention.
  6. Games are great for language gains. The research even showed that the language acquisition didn’t even require that the game was a language game.
  7. Reading gains are inherent to gaming, but choice is a key factor. If students were allowed choice in their in-game reading, the impact was more powerful than the game alone according to Steinkuhler’s own research.
  8. Games are useful for overcoming bias and cognitive dissonance. The 2015 study demonstrates the power of games to overcome cognitive dissonance and reduce stereotypes.
  9. Despite popular opinions, games promote learning and discourage negative behaviors. In fact, the study illustrates that regular game-play improved mental health as well as cognitive and social skills.
  10. Games in research don’t reflect games in the market. Sadly a forthcoming study shows that game makers and game researchers often have a disconnect in studying what is being created and creating what studies show is best. We can do better.

29 thoughts on “10 Important Research Findings on Games in Education

  1. To the first point you’re making. You clearly seem to not have read the paper you cited. They studied the effect of computer based simulations, differentiated those completely from games and did not include ANY study that used systems with any indications of being a game via their definition!

    “We focused solely on the middle area, computer-based simulations that are neither simple visualizations nor involved games”

    Besides that, the figure of 23% is totally taken out of context and what you say here has nothing to do with the conclusion in the paper.

    The 23% you’re referencing is only the number of studies they looked into that had relevant data included in a way that they could take their findings into account.


    since your source is not working anymore, if u wanna check that again

    1. I appreciate the feedback and will repair the link.
      While your accusation that neither I nor Dr. Constance Steinkuhler, had fully vetted the research is a little cutting, I will respond to your seemingly genuine concerns.
      As far as defining games, yes, the research had a very clear distinction that it drew between visualizations, simulations, and games which is necessary for research specificity despite the research being done in conjunction with GlassLab. And one of the stated goals was aiding in developing game-based assessments. Also, the researchers link their work to those of previous studies that link science simulations and games. A. But the very nature of that distinction shows that only games/simulations (the nature of most games) that included completion of levels or achievements were considered purely games and not just simulations.
      That is generally a distinction that is not drawn by educators or players of educational games. By that very measure a game like Minecraft: Education Edition (great for STEM similar to this research) or Walden the game, would fall under simulations. Sites like BrainPOP have simulation/games from Field Day, PhET, early childhood explorations, along with one of the math simulations shown in the research in their Game-Up section. So clearly, while the distinction is necessary for research, it is not one that is generally agreed on in reality when speaking of computer-based simulations. Even the organizations and creators themselves, like PhET use the words game and simulation often interchangeably. And since my audience is generally educators, the language I used is consistent with that environment. (https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/build-an-atom).
      As to the 2nd point about the context of the percentage. Yes, the paper refers to the 23% of research studies they found to collaborate their findings, but that is not what either Dr. Constance Steinkuhler or I reference. Here is a direct quote from it, “The improvement indices of these effect sizes were 23% and 19%, respectively. The weighted average effect sizes of both collections were significantly greater than zero and both were significantly heterogeneous under the fixed effect model.”
      So, again, I appreciate your feedback and adjusted the link and added some clarification. But I think the initial point remains.

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