The rise of game-based learning

Alice Savage meets the children taking gamification to the next level by learning to code through their own games

With many affordable products on the market, game-based learning is becoming a recognisable feature of the British classroom. Learning subjects through games can greatly improve pupil engagement in a subject and provide teachers with instant feedback, analytics and other teaching tools that can tailor a learning programme for each individual student. The rise of game-based learning has now paved the way for a new level of engagement from students with new opportunities arising for them to learn to make their own games.

Celebrating young people who are taking this brave leap is the Young Game Designer Awards (YDGAs) hosted by BAFTA. 

The awards aim to promote game design and to celebrate those children and the adults who guide them who have excelled. Tim Hunter, Director of Learning and New Talent at BAFTA is excited by the role that BAFTA can play in promoting game design in schools and at home: “There’s always a fear that games will turn children into mindless zombies who never see outside of the four walls of their bedroom. It’s something that BAFTA can work on to – if not dispel myths – reassure people that there is value in the medium.” 

One of the catalysts for this new trend is a wave of new products that aim to simplify the game-making process. Software such as Game Maker Studio, Scratch and RPG Maker are affordable tools that make building your own game accessible, even to beginners. Louis Jackson whose game, Block, won a YGD Award in the 10–14-year-old Game Making category used Game Maker Studio as a platform to learn to code.

He said: “I found Game Maker Studio and found it really interesting. I then looked into it and got really involved in the system. If you’re completely new to programming programmes like Game Maker and Scratch have a drag-and-drop function alongside the code – each article that you put into your game has an equivalent line of script in the code which you can see. Over time you start recognising patterns and you don’t need to drag-and-drop because you’ve learned the code natively.”

Jack Mills, whose game, Utopia of Rhythm, won the 15–18-year-old Game Making category also used a programme to help him design his game. By using the software Construct 2, which builds 2D games in HTML5, Jack was able to build on the skills he has learned through his B-Tech in Creative Media. “I’ve always had a very large interest in games and the sixth form college I attend place a lot of emphasis on video game design. I was able to use my game as part of my assignment and I’m now applying to study game design at university.”

Jack Mills accepting his BAFTA award from Cel Spelman

Many colleges, like Jack’s, are able to support young people who are learning to code, however, many face some challenges as well. When asked if he’d been able to ask his teachers for help while making his game, Louis Jackson admitted that the technical set up at school meant that his teachers couldn’t help as much as they’d wanted to: “Unfortunately, because Game Maker Studio exports files as a .exe file the school computers were unable to run my game as .exe files can contain viruses and the school network blocks them automatically. Therefore my teachers couldn’t actually play my game. I showed them screenshots and described game play and they were able to help me get around coding problems.”

Tim Hunter recognises the value of game-based learning: “Gaming is a useful hook to get children to understand not only the obvious stuff like coding or maths but other, softer skills too that can be applied to many situations in life.” Both Louis and Jack express an interest in entering the UK games industry when they finish studying, directly applying the skills they are currently honing. The rise of game-based learning has proven that in the right context video games can be a force for good in the classroom and enthusiastic teachers can help mould the next generation of developers from this generation of digital natives.

Louis Jackson accepting his award from Jordan and Perri from dance troupe Diversity

Side-by-side learning

A look at how games-based learning compares to traditional teaching methods

As each generation of teachers brings new thinking to pedagogic development the rise of learning technology cannot be ignored. Here is a brief look at the core benefits of game-based learning and how it shapes up next to more traditional teaching methods.


Games-based learning can be an excellent way to ensure active engagement from your students. By their very nature games are deliberately engaging, teaching players the skills to complete them. This has excellent application in a learning environment. Some traditional teaching methods only encourage passive engagement, such as learning by rote, or copying down notes as a teacher speaks. Games-based learning encourages learners to find out the necessary information for themselves.

A tailor made experience 

In a busy classroom environment it can be difficult to tailor your lessons to meet the needs of each individual student. Games-based learning offers students the chance to learn at their own pace, and follow the programme in their own way. Teacher controls also allow educators to tailor the content to ensure that the content adheres to their teaching plan.

Passing the test

Using learning software for standardised testing carries with it a number of benefits. While the traditional paper exam has stood the test of time, learning software can offer a flexible approach to exams and reduce time spent marking and producing feedback. Teacher analytics tools can also help you see the wider picture.

Skills transfer

Sometimes, when teaching more abstract concepts it can be difficult make the subject appear relevant to real life. At its core games-based learning is successful because it gives the learner the skills to solve problems for themselves – a dynamic and valuable transferrable skill.

The benefits of games-based learning in the classroom

By Jayne Warburton, CEO, 3P Learning, Europe & ME talks about the benefits of games-based learning in the classroom

Games are powerful motivators and integrating them into education gives teachers another tool in their resource box to get students learning – and crucially, to love learning! 

By using game-like scoreboards and instant feedback, subjects such as maths and English can be made more fun, without diminishing or undermining pedagogical credibility. Positive feedback motivates students, who become more interested and stimulated to learn. 

Engagement is the important metric for success.  Instant feedback and rewards for even the smallest level of progress increases motivation.  Learners can earn points, certificates and gold bars – all effective for getting students to enjoy learning and see themselves as successful at what they do.

We know (and teachers are constantly telling us) that ‘game’-based digital resources (such as Mathletics and Reading Eggs from 3P Learning) boost pupils’ motivation – and thereby their learning – by leveraging cognitive, emotional and social needs. The narrative of a game helps achieve mastery in challenging academic tasks, simultaneously invoking emotions such as pride and frustration, whilst also allowing students to test out new social identities that grant them academic kudos.

There is also a positive bias toward constant learning – the more the student knows about the subject (i.e., mathematical concepts), the better they become at the game. Gamified learning creates an intrinsic motivation to learn more – you have to keep learning to get to the next level and earn the next reward.

There’s something within ‘games’ that fulfil real human needs. Not only that, they’re designed upon sound psychological principles – they’re engaging and can be adapted to learners’ individual skill levels, allowing them to solve problems and receive recognition for their efforts. 

Games are especially useful in helping students overcome their fear of ‘failure’. In fact, many games require players to ‘fail’ repeatedly until the correct answer is found. They can also offer non-overt differentiated learning – unaware of the level at which they are working, students maintain their self-esteem and develop character traits such as resilience important for building strong confident learners.  

Another important point to note is that there’s a fundamental difference between games designed to teach and games where you learn. 

In the former, learners perceive that they are being lectured to, while in the latter, they are actually having fun and just happen to learn, almost as a by-product (consider it learning ‘by stealth’!).