Three Guidelines for Effectively Integrating Games in the Classroom

A number of meta-analysis studies have been conducted in the field of game-based learning attempting to create generalizable findings that can be used to select and create meaningful educational and instructional game experiences. Here are three guidelines culled from research on the subject.

The vast frozen wilderness faces the player as she learns about heat flow formula.

The vast frozen wilderness faces the player as she learns about heat flow formula.

Embed the instructional game into the curriculum. Games should be embedded in instructional programs that include debriefing and feedback so the students understand what happened in the game and how these events support the instructional objectives. The best learning outcomes from using a game in the classroom occur when a three step process is followed. The teacher should first introduce to the students the game and learning objectives covered in the game. The teacher should tell the students what they will be learning by playing the game. Then the students play the game. Finally, after the game is played, the teacher should debrief the students on what they learned. This process ensures that learning occurs from playing the game. (Hays 2005 & Sitzmann, 2011).

Games need to include instructional support. In games without instructional support, the students will tend to learn how to play the game rather than learn domain-specific knowledge embedded in the game. Instructional support to help learners understand how to use the game increases the instruction effectiveness of the gaming experience by allowing learners to focus on the instructional information rather than the requirements of the game. Instructional support features can include elaborative feedback, pedagogical agents, and multi-modal information presentation. (Wouter, 2013, Ke 2009, Hays,2005)

Ensure game objectives align with curriculum objectives. Ke (2009) found that the learning outcomes achieved through computer games depend largely on how educationalists align learning (i.e., learning subject areas and learning purposes), learner characteristics, and game-based pedagogy with the design of an instructional game. In other words, if the game objectives match the curriculum objectives, disconnects are avoided between the game design and curricular goals (Schifter, 2013). The more closely aligned curriculum goals and game goals, the more the learning outcomes of the game will match the desired learning outcomes of the student.

Hays, R. T. (2005). The effectiveness of instructional games: A literature review and
discussion. Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division (No 2005-004).

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.

Schifter, C. C. (2013). Games in learning, design, and motivation. In M. Murphy, S. Redding, &. Twyman (Eds.), Handbook on innovations in learning (pp. 149–164). Philadelphia, PA: Center on Innovations in Learning, Temple University; Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing. Retrieved from

Sitzmann, T. (2011). A meta-analytic examination of the instructional effectiveness of computer-based simulation games. Personnel Psychology, 64(2), 489-528.

Wouters, P., van Nimwegen, C., van Oostendorp, H., & van der Spek, E. D. (2013, February
4). A Meta-Analysis of the Cognitive and Motivational Effects of Serious Games. Journal of Educational Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0031311.

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