What is game-based learning?

What is a game?

All games share four defining traits – a goal, rules, a feedback system and voluntary participation[1]:

What is game-based learning?

Game-based learning (GBL) is a teaching approach which allows students to ‘explore relevant aspects of games in a learning context designed by teachers’[2]. In other words, it is a gameplay with defined learning objectives and outcomes. According to EdTechReview, this learning approach is designed to ‘balance subject matter with gameplay and the ability of the player to retain and apply said subject matter to the real world’[3]. Games allow us to make decisions, practice behaviors and processes which can be later applied to real life situations.

In game-based learning, students fulfill educational goals through the game, not before playing. The core idea of GBL is teaching through repetition, failure and the accomplishment of goals – the principles on which games are built. This method can be employed utilizing any type of game – digital, real life or board game.

An effective game-based learning is characterized by:

The role of the educator

What is the role of the educator in the game-based learning environment? Hanghøj (2013) argues that when facilitating learning through games, teachers shift back and forth between four different roles. These are instructor, playmaker, guide, and evaluator[4]:

  1. Instructor plans and communicates the overall goals of the game in relation to specific learning objectives.
  2. Playmaker communicates the rules, tasks, roles, goals, and dynamics of the game as seen from the players’ perspective. Educator needs to understand how the given game is played and how to respond to students’ interactions with the game.
  3. Guide supports the students in their effort to meet specific learning objectives when they play the game and answers questions students have while playing.
  4. Evaluator re-plays relevant game events and provides a qualified response to students’ game experiences. The evaluator goes over the game and asks evaluation/reflection questions.

However, Hanghøj points out that these roles should not be understood as ‘ideal types’ or as ‘normative goals’ for teaching with games. They are rather heuristic categories observed through empirical analysis of the game-based practices of teachers[5].


  1. McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world. Penguin Press.
  2. EdTechReview, What is GBL (Game-Based Learning)? https://edtechreview.in/dictionary/298-what-is-game-based-learning.
  3. EdTechReview, What is GBL (Game-Based Learning)? https://edtechreview.in/dictionary/298-what-is-game-based-learning.
  4. Hanghøj, T. (2013). Game-based teaching: Practices, roles, and pedagogies. In New Pedagogical Approaches in Game-enhanced Learning: Curriculum integration (pp. 81-101). IGI Global.
  5. Hanghøj, T. (2013). Game-based teaching: Practices, roles, and pedagogies. In New Pedagogical Approaches in Game-enhanced Learning: Curriculum integration (pp. 81-101). IGI Global.