This is a starting point to conceptualize game-based learning as a valid and research-based theory and pedagogical model. This page will evolve and expand as I further develop this framework.
The research literature in game-based learning (hundreds of academic articles if you search) is currently focused on using commercial games in learning contexts. Now termed Digital Game-based Learning, these games have tremendous educational value in schools, but there are no comprehensive games for instructional technology. There are also a few books such as the Multiplayer Classroom by Lee Sheldon that shed light on GBL in practice, but that still didn't get at the foundational understanding and pedagogical framework I needed for curriculum design.
- Scaffolding Learning - Game design focus' heavily on scaffolding of learning in order to build upon prior knowledge. This is rooted in Bruner and Vygotsky's cognitive theories, and scaffolding is frequently the basis for problem-based learning techniques. The book How People Learn has an excellent discussion of experts and novices in chapter 2 (download the book for free from The National Academies Press).
- Adaptive Feedback and Assessments - Assessment is the cornerstone of good instruction, from inquiry learning to universal design for learning. In gaming environments, immediate, appropriate, and continuos feedback provides motivation and a challenge for users. In education, GBL can provide the same motivation and ongoing benchmarks for students. As much as possible, assessments should integrate with course activities to maintain the flow of the learning (as discussed by Csikszentmihalyi).
- Social collaboration and competition - Not all games are social networks or multiplayer environments, but courses are a pre-determine community of learners. Classrooms are not about if there is a community, it is about how you use the community. The best community-based games utilize the strength of collaboration along with the challenge of competition. Social influences (see Bandura's work on the social learning theory) must be considered in learning, and they are of particular importance in GBL.
- Game mechanics - The research in developing good games is well documented, with a strong foundation in the behavioral perspective of psychology. Just as every game employs appropriate gaming elements to engage the user, classrooms must do the same. Whether you motivate learners through extrinsic or intrinsic rewards, challenges or authentic problems, gaming terms or personalization through avatars, these are items in the GBL toolbox.
- Challenging goal situated in a narrative context - Game-based learning is centered on a storytelling narrative. A story where the outcome (i.e. goal) is achievable with the effort and time a student should invest in a class. The goal may or may not have a correct answer, but it is engaging and worthwhile for the user. This is a difficult element to develop, as educators and students have different ideas of "worthwhile".
"Rules" are a defining characteristic of games. In classrooms, rules are clear and set by the teacher. In higher education, this takes the form of a syllabus. The syllabus describes the point system, time requirements, policies, and exceptions to the rule. I did not feel that rules were a requirement of GBL, rather a requirement for classroom instruction.
The use of technology is not a requirement of game-based learning, but it has clear advantages for teachers and students. By using automated grading and adaptive release tools, students can receive feedback and rewards instantly. By using technology, the teacher becomes the game master, adding and adjusting to each students' need.
I developed the Step Model when re-designing my large undergraduate course. This model exemplifies my definition of GBL: