Most of the time a meta-analysis of studies looks at only the numbers as a means of comparison. Here is an interesting qualitative meta-analysis and the highlights of the results.
Fengfeng Ke, a researcher focusing on digital game-based learning, computer-supported collaborative learning, and simulations for instructional use, conducted a review of 89 research articles that provided empirical data on the application and effectiveness of computer-based instructional games.
Her goal was to determine the cumulative qualitative and quantitative evidence for using computer games for learning and what factors weigh in on the effective application of instructional gaming.
Ke chose to conduct a qualitative meta-analysis. So, instead of a statistical analysis of the outcomes of aggregated studies, Ke followed the replicable process of analyzing textual reports through a qualitative method to develop new interpretations. She analyzed 256 reports and eliminated 167 for various reasons. Ultimately, she aggregated results from 89 empirical studies. She classified the studies into five different areas to examine separate research questions. However, not all 89 studies where applicable to all the research questions so for some research questions the pool of studies is less than 89.
- The effects of computer-based games on learning are positive. When analyzing research results of the 65 out of the 89 studies that specifically examined the effectives of computer-based games on learning, Ke found a significant positive effective for computer-based games as compared with conventional instruction. She found a positive impact 52% of the time. She found mixed results reported 25% of the time. Mixed results are when an instructional game facilitated certain learning outcomes but not others and she found no difference between the games or conventional instruction reported 18% of the time. In only one study was conventional instruction more effective than computer games.
- Instructional support features are a necessary part of instructional computer games and when support is present the studies indicate significant results. In this area 17 of the studies focused on instructional game design. These studies generally concluded that learners without instructional support in game will learn to play the game rather than learning domain-specific knowledge embedded in the game. These support features can include elaborative feedback, pedagogical agents, and multi-modal information presentation.
- Instructional games seem to foster higher-order thinking such as planning and reasoning more than factual or verbal knowledge. This conclusion is drawn from studies that looked into cognitive learning outcomes in the areas of basic motor skills, descriptive knowledge, conceptual knowledge, problem solving and general cognitive strategies.
- Instructional computer games seem to facilitate motivation across different learner groups and learning situations. This is based on studies that looked at affective learning outcomes, involving self efficacy, attitudes toward subject content learning and affective feedback toward game use as well as looking at continuing motivation.
Source: Ke, F. (2009). A qualitative meta-analysis of computer games as learning tools. In R. E. Ferdig (Ed.),Effective Electronic Gaming in Education (Vol. 1, pp. 1-32). Hershey: Information Science Reference.