Welcome to the seventh post in the ABCs of Pedagogy. The aim of this blog series is to provide university teachers with the theoretical language to describe their teaching practice. This is useful for the purposes of reflection, scholarship of learning and teaching, career progression, and recognition such as teaching awards and fellowships.

Do you have the scholarly language to describe your higher education learning and teaching practice?

Today’s topic:

G is for game-based learning.

Does the idea of learning through play appeal to you?

Have you used techniques such as icebreakers, imaginative and creative play, physical movement, mental challenges, competition and/or collaboration, or incorporated an element of chance, rules, points, bonuses or leaderboards in your teaching?

Game-based learning, or gamification pedagogy or ‘serious play’, refers to using principles and approaches from game design and mechanics to create interactive learning experiences.

You may have been inspired by some of the teachers we have showcased on Teche: Marina Junqueira Santiago on the power of play and Hector Viveros Tapia’s Where’s Wally-inspired scavenger hunt. We’d love to showcase your practice!

We discussed playful learning at a recent Podcast Club and listened to excerpts from an interview with Joe Bisz and Victoria Mondelli, authors of An Educator’s Guide to Designing Games and Creative Active-Learning Exercises: The allure of play. ALLURE stands for:

  • Ask where to apply play
  • List the thinking steps
  • Link the play with the thinking steps
  • Understand the design
  • Run your activity, and
  • Evaluate the overall learner experience.

Here is a link to the Lecture Breakers podcast and associated resources. They offer a wealth of practical examples, from simple activities that require few resources and little time, to more elaborate games for learning and assessment: rolling a die, trivia questions, role plays, improvisation or escape rooms.

What is the theory behind these practices?

A systematic review of the theoretical underpinnings of scholarship on gamification, serious gaming and game-based learning (Krath, Schürmann & von Korflesch, 2021) identified 118 (!) theories in the areas of motivation, affect, behaviour, and learning to explain gamification. The study revealed that constructivism, experiential learning, flow and self-determination are most common ways of theorising game-based learning.

The former two will be familiar from previous ABCs in this series: C is for constructivism and E is for experiential learning. Game-based learning is a strategy for students to become active participants in learning and co-creators of knowledge. It builds on Kolb’s (1984) model for experiential learning by offering a concrete learning experience on which learners can reflect, make connections with other concepts, and apply understanding to new contexts. Game-based learning in groups is aligned with Vygotsky’s (1978) theory of social constructivism in which the social context facilitates learning.

Flow describes a mental state of immersion in an activity (Csikszentmihalyi, 2014). This is connected to intrinsic motivation, when a student pursues an activity for enjoyment and challenge rather than an external reward. Self-determination theory is a model for understanding motivation for learning, which affects how engaged a student is with their studies and how much effort they are prepared to put in when learning is challenging (Wigfield & Eccles, 2000). In self-determination theory, motivation exists on a continuum from amotivation through extrinsic motivation to intrinsic motivation.

Image: @centerforSDT

In self-determination theory, intrinsic motivation relies on three psychological needs: competence (gaining mastery), relatedness (connecting with others) and autonomy (feeling in control) (Krath, Schürmann & von Korflesch, 2021; Ryan & Deci, 2020).

Building on this theoretical context, here are some questions to prompt evaluation of your games-based pedagogical approach:

  1. How does game-based learning support student achievement of the learning outcomes of your unit/ major/ course?
  2. What complex disciplinary concepts, methods or skills are reinforced through games or play?
  3. In what ways do game elements motivate learning? Does game-based learning enhance skills in creative and critical thinking, problem solving, application of knowledge and collaboration? How have you evaluated the impact on student engagement and achievement?
  4. Are students able to transfer the knowledge and skills acquired through the game-based learning experience to other areas of their academic or professional lives?
  5. Do the gamification strategies respond to the needs of your student cohorts? Is your pedagogy inclusive?
  6. What feedback have students provide about the game-based learning experience, and how can that inform future offerings?

Try ‘The Teaching Game

To get meta about game-based learning, here is a game that builds your knowledge and skill in evidence-based teaching strategies, The Teaching Game from Wharton Interactive:

You’re about to teach a class of novices. You’ll need to put together a plan and deploy each part of it to keep your students engaged while making sure they’re learning. But don’t worry, we’re here to help! The class could be about any topic you would like, but assume you have expertise and your students don’t. Before you meet your class, let’s first learn some of the science of teaching…

It includes some useful myth busting about learning styles like my interview with Penny van Bergen and Alissa Beath in What psychology can tell us about teaching in higher education.

The game is free to play but email registration is required:


Bisz, J. and Mondelli, V. (2023). An Educator’s Guide to Designing Games and Creative Active-Learning Exercises: The allure of play. Teachers College Press.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2013). Flow: The psychology of happiness. Random House.

Kolb, DA (1984). Experiential Learning: experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Krath, J., Schürmann, L., & von Korflesch, H. F.O. (2021). Revealing the theoretical basis of gamification: A systematic review and analysis of theory in research on gamification, serious games and game-based learning. Computers in Human Behavior, 125, 1-33.

Ryan, R. M. & Deci, E. L. (2020). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation from a self-determination theory perspective: Definitions, theory, practices, and future directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 61 (2020), 101860.

Vygotsky, L. V. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wigfield, A., & Eccles, J. S. (2000). Expectancy-value theory of achievement motivation. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 68-81.

Acknowledgement: In developing this series on the ABCs of Pedagogy, I would like to acknowledge the teaching and scholarship of current and former Macquarie University staff members including Vanessa Fredericks, Marina Harvey, Mathew Hillier, Olga Kozar, Danny Liu, Karina Luzia, Margot McNeil, Anna Rowe, Cathy Rytmeister, Theresa Winchester-Seeto and others.

What are the ABCs of pedagogy that will be covered in this series?

Click to reveal the pedagogy:

Banner image: Brian Mueller on Shutterstock
‘G’ image: Photo by artcasta on Shutterstock
ABC Ransom vector created by freepik – www.freepik.com

Posted by Agnes Bosanquet

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