Game Based Learning: How does it work?

Curriculums have followed the textbook approach for as long as one can remember. Educationists have been discussing the need to modernize the learning methods. New solutions that ensure higher student engagement and bringing up their critical, creative and analytical abilities are required for success in real life. 


After all, learning should never be a boring experience! 

Game based learning ensures that learning is always accompanied by fun, excitement, and joy. Game-based learning solutions are a modern approach to teaching and taking on the traditional curriculum. 

Various game based learning apps work by creating a balance between theoretical concepts, practical skills, and gamification principles. Well designed games are hence aimed at mingling entertainment with education in such a manner that students don’t realize what and when they learn while they’re having fun!

The article aims to discuss the nitty-gritty of game-based learning, how it works, the science behind it, the benefits and the types. 

What is game based learning?

The use of games for education is actually not new. Chess was taught in the old days to teach analytical and strategic thinking. Similarly, simple games like Monopoly helped the players learn the basics of financial transactions and use them in real-life scenarios. 

Game based learning is hence a mix of education and entertainment. The basic purpose here is to make learning enjoyable and engaging. 

The concept behind game based learning is to use the principles of repetition, practice, failure and goal accomplishment. Most learning-based video games are built on this principle alone. Players start at the basic levels, practice, acquire skills and reach to the highest levels, without really realizing the efforts that are going into it. 


Game designers understand the need to balance the game levels at a difficulty level that tickles the player’s curiosity while challenging them to work harder and win. 

Applying the same concept to curriculum teaching can revolutionize the education sector. 

Students can be encouraged to work towards a goal, practice various levels, achieve success or failure and learn from their experience. The approach towards learning and practicing their study material while playing helps make the transition from passive learning to active learning. 

And the result?

Research proves that the results are much more effective than traditional teaching concepts which included textbooks, lectures and theory learning. 

Let’s learn more about the difference between game based learning and conventional learning in the following sections. 

Game based learning vs conventional learning

The education system has been a little hard to penetrate for new technologies. The rapidly changing technological world brings forth various interesting proposals that have huge potential. However, when it comes to the education world, things need to be carefully tested before they can be incorporated at the curriculum levels. 

Drastic changes have not really happened in the past many decades. However, modern-day educationists are now supporting the need for bringing in big transactions in the sector. 

Not a small task, but necessary, just the same!

Digital curriculums are now being incorporated in a small way in various educational institutions around the world. However, the real transformation might take some more rigorous efforts. ‘

So why the need to change a system that’s working for as long as anyone can remember?

Let us understand this by comparing the conventional textbook approach of learning to game-based learning. 

Textbooks have been used for ages as a tool for learning. They contain subject information, theories, and concepts. However, in most cases, textbooks arrive in schools and universities one year after they are written and printed. And then, they sometimes are used for years without undergoing changes. 

This means that there is a substantial delay and lack of updation in the information provided in textbooks. Curriculums often keep going without adding in the latest information for years. 

Game based learning, on the other hand, stands on the principle of change and adaptiveness. Games are devised and tested to provide information and add on new information that comes in the field. 

Games can hence be adjusted and updated with the latest information and approaches available in the market. Game based learning hence prepares the student with the latest information and keeps them ready for real-life scenarios as soon as they enter the professional world. 

Additionally, game-based learning systems are equipped with monitoring and feedback tools that help educators to modify and adjust the games as and when required. 

Finally, game based learning helps improve the attention span of students and learners which is a big drawback for the textbook approach of learning. 

Does game-based learning work?


Everyone loves games. Whether it is interesting and capturing visuals, the challenges and competitions or the desire to win rewards and badges, game based learning engages learners in all sectors. And the education sector is no different.

It is predicted that game based learning will hit the $7.3 billion mark by 2021. The figures alone say a lot!

Educationists report that curriculum-based games showed significant results in terms of knowledge retention, increase in engagement, teamwork, and the ability to translate the acquired knowledge in real-life scenarios. 


Various teachers and educators who have used and tested game based learning approaches agree that it is essential to incorporate these in modern learning systems. 

So what is the science that works behind game based learning? 

Does it really work at the neurological level?

The following section takes a look at the scientific approach to game based learning. Let’s see what neuroscientists have to say about this ultra-modern approach towards learning.

The science behind game based learning

As we all know, learning isn’t always fun. On the other hand, it can be very exhausting when dealing with complex subjects. That said, combine it with gaming and learning gets converted to a joyous journey. 

gamification in education

Neuroscience knowledge and research prove the efficacy of game-based learning.

Gamification triggers the production of mood-enhancing chemicals like endorphins, dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin. Additionally, it reduces the impact of stress hormones like cortisol. 

The overall impact is the creation of a perfect atmosphere for effective elearning. Games trigger curiosity and hence awaken all human senses to their highest alertness level. This results in increased engagement levels and positive behavior change. 

So, getting back to neuroscience, what makes gaming so addictive? 

Following are the neurotransmitters that come to play during gameplay:


Endorphins are chemicals released in the brain that are usually responsible for mood enhancement and a feeling of wellness. Players get a feeling of achievement when finishing and completing educational video games. Bigger challenges and rewards create bigger motivation to win. Players imagine the kind of recognition that they will get on completion of tasks. This feeling triggers the production of endorphins which helps the gamers stay engaged in the game until the final hurdle is reached. 


Dopamine is another mood-enhancing hormone that is released in pleasurable situations. Research proves that the levels of dopamine released in the brain double up when a person is engaged in a game. 



Oxytocin is a feel-good hormone that is also known as the “love hormone”. It is the hormone that is released when humans build relationships. Game designers make use of this fact and build games that are character or narrative-driven. Players feel related to the character and start feeling good for their achievements.


Serotonin is a strong neurotransmitter chemical that affects the mood, creativity, focus, memory, behavior and the ability to learn. High production of serotonin has been observed during gaming.


Cortisol is also known as the stress hormone and is produced by the brain under situations of threat, trouble, pain, frustration or anxiety. Overproduction of cortisol slows down other important functions like memory, creativity, positive feeling, etc. Various pieces of research provide evidence that game based learning actually resulted in lowering the production of cortisol, hence making the players feel more recharged and positive. 

Benefits of game based learning

Various advantages of game based learning can be summed down as follows:

1. Highly engaging: In a world that’s working its way around short attention spans, games are the best way to increase learner engagement and attention. Various studies prove that video games intended for educational purposes are more engaging than the traditional textbook/lecture modes of learning.


2. Motivating: Being motivated to do a job is half the battle won! Games creare motivation amongst learners/students by offering interesting rewards/badges at various levels and hence celebrating their achievements and learning. A student who’s motivated to learn finds it easier to move on to higher challenges while going through the game. 

3. Instant Feedback: Game features like leaderboards, points, etc help the learners see their growth curve at all stages of the game. Additionally, games are built with other features of receiving instant feedback from the teachers which helps the students understand the subject better and improve on their shortcomings. 

4. Prepare for real-life scenarios: Games are constantly updated and modified to simulate real-life situations. Students can hence learn an important subject and understand its applications in the real world. Simulation training is exceptionally useful in pilot training, business training, army training, etc. 

5. Teamwork: Real-life and professional scenarios often work around teamwork rather than individual contribution. Games that are designed to be played in teams help the students prepare for the professional world where working together with their colleagues is valued. 

6. Easy acceptance of failure: Games provide the students with a safe environment for failure. While failing in a regular test can be hard to take, gaming environment keeps the things on a lighter side and gives the students a chance to try again and learn from their mistakes. 

7. Multiple learnings: Games can be designed to combine different subjects in a common gaming platform.

Types of game based learning

Following are the common types of game formats used for learning purpose:

Interval games:

These are your regular video game that are intersected with learning content. The video game continues and is interspersed with scenario-based/multiple-choice questions from the curriculum. The intervals could also be used for injecting a learning video that’s related to the subject. 

Gates Games:

These are the games that are built at different levels. A player is required to first complete a task (answer some learning questions/ learn a course module, etc) for the game to open up its new level. Students are also rewarded consistently for passing each level. 

Simulation Games:

These are the games that are built around real situations and simulate the scenarios that the player would have to face in the real world. For example, pilot training often uses flight simulation games to train learners. 3D graphics are used to teach various important aspects like navigation of latitudes, turbulence management, circle navigation, etc. 

Final thoughts

Game based learning focuses on changing the educator’s and the student’s approach towards learning. The entire concept is based around triggering the brain to enjoy the process and consider the learning as a fun journey. 

The idea here is to not just get the students through a grade level but also work on long term knowledge retention. Games are adaptive and can be modified not just to include the latest information in the curriculum but also to suit the learning style of individual players. 

Game based learning hence challenges the traditional rote memorization models of education and supports learning through trial and error. 

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