Part IV | Game-Based Learning Research

Part IV | Game-Based Learning Research

Part IV of Dissertation Research Series

Hays (2005) conducted a meta-analysis examining the effectiveness of games for instructional purposes. Hays concluded that games can be effective, but the research did not support that they were more effective than other well-designed instructional methods, especially because the empirical research is fragmented, with many different types of games and tasks, and methodological issues (Hays, 2005). While games can be effective, the results should not be generalized to mean that games are effective for all instruction, with different types of games and learners. The analysis also revealed that the instructional support provided around games is important to improving the effectiveness of the gaming experience (Hays, 2005).

A qualitative meta-analysis published two years later by Ke (2009) expanded on some of the limitations of the previous literature reviews by including more studies on games specifically as well as including qualitative studies, rather than just quantitative. Ke’s meta-analysis included 89 studies and found that of 65 educational game effectiveness studies, 34 had positive results, 17 were mixed, 12 had no difference, and 1 reported that traditional instruction was more effective than game-based instruction (Ke, 2009).


Continuing research on educational game learning effectiveness in K-12 settings has been added to the literature in recent years. The table below summarizes eight recent studies not included in Ke’s literature review which included content learning as outcome variables. Six of the studies supported game-based learning as being more effective for learning versus traditional classroom instruction (Bai, Pan, Hirumi, & Kebritchi, 2012; Ke & Grabowski, 2007; Kebritchi, Hirumi, & Bai, 2010; Marina Papastergiou, 2009; Miller, Chang, Wang, Beier, & Klisch, 2011; Tüzün, Yılmaz-Soylu, Karakuş, İnal, & Kızılkaya, 2009) while two of the studies reported no significant differences in learning (Annetta, Minogue, Holmes, & Cheng, 2009; Ke, 2008). It may be important to note that the two studies without significant differences in learning outcomes were not modern games designed on pedagogical learning theory: Annetta et al. (2009) used a teacher-created genetics game, and Ke (2008) specifically set a purpose to examine drill and practice based math games, while noting that not every drill game engaged the participants. Even in those two studies, both did see increased levels of engagement and positive attitudes towards the subject matter.

Study Purpose Game Results
Annetta, Minogue, Holmes, & Cheng, 2009 Effects of game on learning and engagement Teacher-created genetics game No differences in learning; significant differences in level of engagement
Bai, Pan, Hirumi, & Kebritchi, 2012 Effects of game on performance and motivation DimensionMmath game Game increased math knowledge; maintained student motivation
Ke, 2008 Examine drill & practice math games’ practical use and learning outcomes Drill & Practice math games No effect on cognitive test performance or metacognitive awareness; more positive attitudes towards math
Ke & Grabowski, 2007 Effects of game on math performance and attitudes Astra Eagle math games Gameplaying more effective than drills; cooperative gameplaying most effective
Kebritchi, Hirumi, & Bai, 2010 Effects of game on math achievement and motivation with learner characteristics DimensionM math game Significant improvement in achievement; no significant motivation; learner characteristics not significant
Miller, Chang, Wang, Beier, & Klisch, 2011 Effects of game on knowledge and attitude toward science careers CSI: The Experience Significant gains in content knowledge; improved science career motivation
Papastergiou, 2009 Effects of game on learning effectiveness and motivation LearnMem1 computer science game Gaming more effective and motivational; no gender differences
Tuzun, Yilmaz-Soylu, Karakus, Inal, & Kiziklaya, 2009 Game play on learning and motivation for geography students Quest Atlantis Significant learning gains; higher intrinsic motivation; decreased focus on grades




Annetta, L. A., Minogue, J., Holmes, S. Y., & Cheng, M.-T. (2009). Investigating the impact of video games on high school students’ engagement and learning about genetics. Computers & Education, 53(1), 74–85. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2008.12.020

Bai, H., Pan, W., Hirumi, A., & Kebritchi, M. (2012). Assessing the effectiveness of a 3-D instructional game on improving mathematics achievement and motivation of middle school students. British Journal of Educational Technology, 43(6), 993–1003. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2011.01269.x

Hays, R. T. (2005). The effectiveness of instructional games: a literature review and discussion. Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division, 1–63.

Ke, F. (2008). A case study of computer gaming for math: Engaged learning from gameplay? Computers & Education, 51(4), 1609–1620. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2008.03.003

Ke, F. (2009). A qualitative meta-analysis of computer games as learning tools. Handbook of Research on Effective Electronic Gaming in Education, 1, 1–32.

Ke, F., & Grabowski, B. (2007). Gameplaying for maths learning: cooperative or not? British Journal of Educational Technology, 38(2), 249–259. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2006.00593.x

Kebritchi, M., Hirumi, A., & Bai, H. (2010). The effects of modern mathematics computer games on mathematics achievement and class motivation. Computers & Education, 55(2), 427–443. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2010.02.007

Marina Papastergiou. (2009). Digital Game-Based Learning in high school Computer Science education: Impact on educational effectiveness and student motivation. Computers & Education, 52(1), 1–12. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2008.06.004

Miller, L. M., Chang, C.-I., Wang, S., Beier, M. E., & Klisch, Y. (2011). Learning and motivational impacts of a multimedia science game. Computers & Education, 57(1), 1425–1433. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2011.01.016

Tüzün, H., Yılmaz-Soylu, M., Karakuş, T., İnal, Y., & Kızılkaya, G. (2009). The effects of computer games on primary school students’ achievement and motivation in geography learning. Computers & Education, 52(1), 68–77. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2008.06.008


Lindsey Tropf

Lindsey Tropf

Founder & CEO of @immersedgames // School psychology doctoral candidate interested in #edtech, game-based learning, and using data.

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