Monday, 24 September 2012

Games Based Learning Interest around the World

This blog is not an in depth piece of research, but should be of interest nonetheless. Basically, the data is derived from our Blogger stats. Our blog has had around 21,000 page views at the time of writing, so it provides a decent sample size.

Page Views via Country
Page views
United States
United Kingdom

We have promoted our blog in the UK and USA through links to other bloggers and some of the page views are from these sources.  An analysis of referring sites indicates some key sites that we have nurtured relationships with or where we have posted about our blog. This shows that traffic is not purely organic.  For example, Linkedin, and Kings School * account for around 450 page views. Some of the views are also driven from our corporate sites ( and

Blogger map of our page views
Even though search engines and Twitter account for the majority of views, we would have expected a slight skewing of the results to the UK and US because of the promotional activities stated above. This might impact on the results shown in the table, but deducting a few hundred off the UK and US would not change the order. These are countries that are clearly interested in games based learning.  The French result is particularly impressive - note we have not nurtured any French link ups, so that traffic is all organic. The Ukraine and Russian results are hard to decipher as the source sites can be obscure.

Our blog is written in English, which is likely to skew the results. Taking that into account, can we put forward any reason for our results?  Possibly, an enthusiasm for entertainment games is the key to the interest in games based learning. A proxy for this enthusiasm can perhaps be seen in the number of games companies in a particular country. Looking at the contractor list on Gamasutra website shows a reasonable correlation with our page views, although again France is somewhat of an anomaly.

If anyone has any other ideas, we would love to read your comments. Finally, I wonder if other bloggers out there could share their data and we could do a meta-analysis. Wow, that would almost be like proper research.

* We wrote a case study of their use of our games-ED product on the blog, which the school’s site links to.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Motivation, Motivation, Motivation

Get them early!
Student motivation is obviously an extremely important topic for educators, researchers, parents and so on and we have talked about it previously, in our blog post ‘Gamification in Education’.  Encouraging children's intrinsic motivation can help them to achieve academic success (Adelman, 1978).  Motivation is essentially the drive to sustain, intensify and discourage behaviour (Reeve, 1996) and this can stem from both internal and external factors.  Internal factors include responsibility for learning, values and perceived ability etc of the child (Ainley, 2004).  However, there are also external factors that can affect student motivation.  For example, Ainley argued that types of schooling practices could promote or hinder motivation such as peer groups, tasks and instructional practices.  Educators can’t do too much about the child’s internal motivation, but they can definitely help in external ways.

But are the benefits of motivation that great?  It seems so (bullets from

  • High motivation in students is linked to reduced dropout rates and increased levels of student success (Dev, 1997; Blank, 1997; Ames, 1992; Newmann, Bryk, & Nagaoka, 2001).
  • Students are more engaged in learning when they are active and have some choice and control over the learning process, and the curriculum is individualized, authentic, and related to their interests (Anderman & Midgley, 1998).
  • Intrinsically motivated students retain information and concepts longer, and are less likely to need remedial courses and review (Dev, 1997).
  • Intrinsically motivated students are more likely to be lifelong learners, continuing to educate themselves outside the formal school setting long after external motivators such as grades and diplomas are removed (Kohn, 1993).

Intrinsic motivation is not quite the same as internal motivation and therefore, can be encouraged.  Intrinsic motivation is based on enjoyment of the activity rather than completing something simply to gain an external reward (extrinsic motivation).  Teachers can, in most cases, make lessons, subjects, topics etc more enjoyable, which could increase student motivation and yield the above effects.

Technology is one way that they could do this.  This excerpt comes from Alexandra Usher and Nancy Kober’s paper, Student Motivation: An Overlooked Piece of School Reform (2012):

“Creative educational uses of technology hold promise for increasing motivation for a generation of students who have grown up teaching themselves to communicate online, surf the Web, write blogs, or edit photos. Several characteristics of technology make it especially motivating, some scholars contend. Video games can build a mastery-based mindset by gradually increasing the level of challenge, helping students visualize complex concepts, and giving students frequent positive feedback. Interactive and social media technology can stimulate the interest of bored students and the participation of shy students. Web-based instruction can motivate students by creating more opportunities for active choice and collaboration. Educators around the country are incorporating technology into their teaching and a myriad of ways. Examples include using video games to reinforce concepts in math and science or incorporating Twitter into a real-time discussion board during class. Research on the effects of newer technologies for learning is thin, however, and experts caution that how the technology is used is the most critical factor.”

A literature review by Patrick Felicia entitled, ‘What evidence is there that digital games can contribute to increasing students' motivation to learn?’ (2011) also throws up some interesting findings.  It illustrates how some features of video games can promote intrinsic motivation.  The review demonstrates that games are employed to successfully increase motivation on the part of the learners, in a wide range of settings, for different topics (subjects), and to address the needs and specificities of different types of learners (e.g., gender, age, or special needs).  The review shows that games can teach both academic and non-academic skills, and motivate students to collaborate, share information, and increase their attainments.  These ideas are essentially what I was aiming to convey in my blog post ‘Unorthodox Uses of Games in Education’.

However, as we have mentioned in other blog posts (such as ‘Five Things to Think About When Using Games in the Classroom’), Felicia notes that games alone might not be enough.  He argues that additional mechanisms should be employed to engage, teach and change behaviour.  For example, game design (e.g., personalized strategies, adapted challenge or a good balance between educational and entertaining features), and teaching strategies (e.g., briefing, debriefing, and teachers' support).  We have talked about these themes before (for example, in ‘Six Key Principles of Collaborative Games Based Learning’) and both pixelfountain and games-ED products have these ideas at their heart as this page from our website shows.

These ideas are all rather theoretical, but we have blogged before about how these ides work in practice.  For example, ‘Is Game Based Learning More Effective Than Traditional Methods?’ and specific to gender, ‘Boys will be Boys’.  We have also covered these themes in the case studies of using our games-ED learning simulations in schools (Proof of the Pudding parts 1, 2 and 3).

It seems almost common sense to say that motivation can both alter student behaviour and attainment and that it can be encouraged.  However, this is often, as Usher and Kober put it, overlooked.  Motivational techniques also seem to be stuck in the past, which may be why they are less effective.  It seems odd to deprive children of the technology that they have been immersed in all of their lives, just because they are at school.  Children today have been brought up in an extremely stimulating world; it is no wonder that they lack motivation at school if teaching methods are outdated.  Maybe an injection of technology and games based learning is what is needed.  What do you think?


  1. Adelman, H. S. (1978) The Concept of Intrinsic Motivation: Implications for Practice and Research with the     Learning Disabled. Learning Disability Quarterly, 1(2), p.43-54.
  2. Ainley, M. (2004). What do we Know About Student Motivation and Engagement? Australian Association for Research in Education, Melbourne.
  3. Reeve, J. (1996). Motivating others: Nurturing inner motivational resources. Needham Heights, MA, Allyn & Bacon.

Have a gander at our games-ED Facebook page and Google+ page and follow @PaulLadley on Twitter.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The Future of Learning Technologies

As we have covered many times in our blog we are living in an age where new technologies are being developed and released all the time and these technologies have fantastic uses in the world of education and more general learning.  A recent article discusses various learning technology trends of 2012.  These include cloud technologies (software online rather than on a single computer) and flipped learning (spending ‘home time’ doing things such as reading and listening to educational podcasts and ‘lesson time’ discussing and doing group projects).

One of the trends that the article cites is gamification.  It argues that games based learning is on the rise and it is effective as games “provide meaning through real engagement, immediate feedback and a sense of accomplishment that is well-integrated with sound pedagogy”.  In fact, the article quotes a neurologist in saying “games provide an individualized achievable goal that initiates the dopamine-reward system, which provides a powerful pleasure response”.  Scientific proof that games based learning is great :)  Another mechanism that occurs was discussed in our previous blog post, ‘Neuroscience, Stress and Games Based Learning’.

The article also suggests that games based learning works so well because it is a safe environment in which to explore.  I mentioned in a previous blog post (‘Unorthodox Uses of Games in Education’) an article entitled ‘9 ways virtual learning is better’ which is really worth a look and this makes the same point.  In fact number one on their list is “With virtual experience, there is no risk. No danger. No loss of money or resources (other than the cost of designing and doing the activity). Minimal loss of time. Not so in the real world”.

This is a nice little graphic from to represent the future of educational technology.  A large part of the visualisation is gamification, which they argue is so effective as it offers “instant feedback to acquired knowledge through achievements and reward systems”.  Another benefit is that is allows ‘self-paced learning’.  It looks like the future could be pretty bright for education technology, which could lead to some pretty bright kids.  Let’s hope that some of these technologies can actually break through the red tape and stagnation of the education system.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Kinect Games Based Learning

I have spoken in a previous blog post about the amazing uses for the Xbox Kinect with children on the Autism Spectrum.  However, there are also many other ways that Kinect technology can be used to teach a wide range of things.  The website has tonnes of educational games that people have developed for a wide range of subjects.  Some of them are a little basic, which is what you might expect for such a young market.  However, it is clear that the Kinect has great potential for games based learning.

I do recommend taking a look at that website as it is full of interesting games and lesson plans etc, but I’m going to focus on one game developer in particular in this blog who has particularly caught my attention.  David Renton is a games developer and lecturer based in Scotland.  He has created several games for the Kinect, which look both educational and great fun.

The first game is Kinect Angles.  This game aims to help children learn angles, percentages, fractions and decimals in a fun way.    In-game, the screen shows a picture of the game-players through the Kinect’s webcam-like system with superimposed images on top.  The aim of the game is to visually represent angles correctly with ones’ arms.  The game can be played individually or as a pair, competitively or not.  In David’s own words, the game “promotes active learning methodologies.  Pupils are engaging with their learning in a physical and multi-sensory manner, meeting the needs of different learning styles; aural, visual and kinaesthetic.”  One child, in a pilot lesson said, “It’s active and you understand it better than just doing it in your jotter.”

The second game is Kinect Time.  It works in a similar way to Kinect Angles, but is used to help teach children time.  Again, it can be played individually or as a pair.  In David’s words, “The point of the game is basically to set the hands on the clock to match the time digitally displayed, you do this by moving your arms; Kinect captures the motion and my game translates it to the hands on the clock face.”  Visit this blog post for a video of the game in action.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Three “Games Based Learning” Development Tools Explored

Developing with Adobe Flash
A lot of the games based learning products that I have developed over the years have been done using Flash. Adobe’s Flash is a fantastic tool and creates efficient code (a small file size that is great for web work) but is not necessarily that easy to use for non-programmers. In the last year, I have had a look at some other tools, which can be used to develop games based learning (even if that is not their primary purpose). This blog post is an overview my findings.

Captivate and other Rapid Development Tools
I have used Captivate within the context of e-Learning experiments and have blogged about these before at The Situated example was an attempt to push Captivate to its limits. The SITUATED-training ( course puts the trainee in a virtual setting where they need to visit various locations, talk to characters and interact with objects. The instructional design embeds a system simulation inside a dynamic story line. At the end of the training, the trainee is presented with a dynamic end report that shows what they did and didn’t do. The example I developed was a mini project management game, but the approach could be used in humanities and science education.

Captivate is traditionally used for system simulations, but it has a simple scripting language that can be used to control variables, visibility of screen objects etc. It is a bit clunky for people with programming experience, but as you can see from my SITUATED-training example, it can used to develop quite sophisticated solutions. For this reason and the fact that it feels more robust, I would rank Captivate above rapid development tools such as Articulate and Lectora.

Note: My experiments were done using Captivate 5.5 and I note that version 6 is now available.

Following on from a games workshop design project ( with school children in St Helens (Merseyside, UK) I developed a prototype of the chosen design – Eco-Busters. Partly because I wanted to avoid the slow development process of Flash, I fished around the Internet for a game development tool. I settled on Construct 2 from Scirra state that Construct allows you to create games effortlessly. They say Construct is a ground breaking HTML5 windows game engine that lets anyone make games without any programming experience.

My experience was that Construct is indeed powerful and easy to get into. But, the caveat I would give is that I have been programming on and off for 30 years – how time flies :( Anyway, I would say that Construct is a tad more difficult than Captivate but is infinitely cheaper in that it is free and Captivate is £850 on the Adobe site.

The Eco-Busters prototype can be found at Note the game is HTML5, so you will need IE9 or Google Chrome or Firefox. The game is far from complete, but you will get the idea of what Construct can do. Make sure you read the instructions as the children’s design required an intricate method for controlling two characters.  Also, there are other examples on

MIT App Inventor for Android Devices
I was recently looking for a tool to develop mobile apps and again I wanted something that was quick to get into. App Inventor lets you develop applications for Android phones using a web browser and either a connected phone or emulator. Originally developed by Google, App Inventor has been made open source and has been taken on by MIT see

You build apps by working with:
The App Inventor Designer, where you select the components for your app.
The App Inventor Blocks Editor, where you assemble program blocks that specify how the components should behave. You assemble programs visually, fitting pieces together like pieces of a puzzle.

Once I had got the App Inventor loaded and connected to my phone, which was a bit fiddly due to me having to find a USB driver on the HTC website, everything worked smoothly. Overall the programming environment was straightforward and powerful. The blocks editor might be slightly tortuous for accomplished programmers but the visual approach will suit the novice. In fact, I did a little bit of programming with my 11 year old.

At this stage, I haven’t developed any games based learning, but App Inventor shows potential for gamified quizzes and one of the tutorials is a Whack-A-Mole game.

The above three development tools are not the only tools out there. I chose the above tools as they were easy to get into but also were more than simple presentation builders. Please feel free to comment on any tools that you have used.