Monday, 25 February 2013

Games Based Learning Integrated with Traditional Exercises

There is a buzz surrounding games based learning currently.  They are many games that can be used in classrooms and for training and development.  However, they will usually be most effective when they sit alongside traditional materials.  It is unlikely that you could get all the information you need from one game (although of course it is possible).


Recently we were asked by The University of Northampton to put together a learning simulation to be delivered within the context of a Housing and Community Living Module within the Health School.  We developed Planit-Housing.  In Planit-Housing, additional workshop activities (incidents) have been fully integrated into the learning simulation.  Teams must complete exercises out of the simulation, which directly feed back into their in-game progress and score.  The quality of the delegate’s responses to the incidents (a riot or flood in the virtual community) alters multiple variables and the teams’ budgets in the simulation.  There is a seamless interaction between the two learning elements.  They offer a richer experience than either a game or traditional learning activities could have done alone.  This approach also addresses varied learning needs and styles (see ‘Games Based Learning Supports Multiple Learning Styles').  It also provides a flexible way of learning that the facilitator can control and depending on their time constraints, the activities can be divided up as the facilitator sees fit.

The Planit-Housing programme is designed to:

  • Explain the complexities of the subject, including issues faced by those in different housing sectors, which will be identified and examined from a health perspective in addition to multiple sources of inequity/exclusion.
  • Enable the students to improve collaborative working skills and practically explore the partnership working necessary for successful and sustainable communities.  These include developing an understanding of the big picture (strategic thinking), cause and effect (joined up thinking), communication / negotiation skills and collaborative working (the importance of partnerships). 

Integration of Learning Simulation with Traditional Exercises

Planit-Housing is the latest learning simulation from pixelfountain; the latest incarnation of our mission to integrate learning simulations with traditional exercises.  In Planit-Housing, each team’s performance in the exercises is judged for content, presentation, teamwork and understanding the wider impacts of the incident.  These values are entered easily into the learning simulation via a dashboard.  In this way multiple variables and the team’s budgets are altered.  For example, in the riot incident, a poor performance by the Housing Team could result in more destruction and reduced housing quality.  Whereas a good performance would mean the team was better prepared and so the impacts in the riot would not be as bad.  In fact, a team could generate positive outcomes for the virtual community, such as improved cohesion resulting from community clean-ups.

The learning simulation also has save functionality.  This means that time constraints needn’t be a worry.  Planit-Housing has been used by The University of Northampton over three afternoon sessions.  However, it is flexible and could be used over fewer or more sessions if desired.  It is our firm belief that the teacher/facilitator should be fully in control of the learning process and therefore flexibility built into games is an important feature.  For more information, see our Games Based Learning Analysis and Planning Tool).  The teacher/facilitator should be able to stop game play at any time to reinforce or assess learning, do a non-game activity, end the session and so on.  Many commercial games do not allow this and some purpose built games overlook this feature.

Benefits of the approach

  • Flexibility – the approach allows the simulation workshop to incorporate any sort of activity to achieve a specific learning outcome.
  • Extension – the learning simulation can be extended to incorporate sophisticated workshop exercises and additional learning components, which can be interweaved into the game play.
  • No additional development - whatever the exercise, the trainees can be judged using standard metrics.
  • Engagement – the exercises break up the game play and the simulation brings added weight to the traditional workshop exercise.
  • Supports multiple learning styles – exercises / learning components can be designed to suit all learning styles and together they work in a single meta exercise or learning piece.
  • Supports active learning – real world activities can be incorporated into the learning process. 

What Next

pixelfountain is always looking to innovate and improve.  The next steps for this type of learning could include a more sophisticated dashboard which would enable the trainer / facilitator to:

  • Trigger any number of incidents as and when they want them to occur in the workshop programme.
  • Integrate incidents without the need for additional bespoke coding.  Specific algorithm variables could be selected in terms of the impact of a newly devised incident.  The trainer could determine the level of impact for each variable and how the workshop activity relates to the variables.

A core simulation could then incorporate incidents without the need to involve a development team.

Other Examples

Grandma’s Games:  Grandma’s Games have won awards for their innovative learning programmes, which make use of traditional games (mostly from Macedonia), such as hopscotch and Cat’s Cradle.  They use these games along with technology to teach areas within and beyond the curriculum.  For example, a game called Chelik (steel) has the following learning outcomes:

To learn the linear measures, cm (centimeter) dm (decimeter) and m (meter); to be able to compare linear measures by free judgment; to make linear measure instruments, rulers and tape measures with the use of computers; to draw in Paint and to print rulers and tape measures glued on a piece of paper; to define homonyms (same words with different meanings); evergreen and deciduous trees; to explore pictures using Bing, memorize and insert them in a Power Point presentation.”

For more information and resources visit:

SimCityEDU: As I am sure many of you are aware, the latest incarnation of SimCity will be released early next month.   However, what you might not know is that SimCityEDU has also been developed by a partnership between Electronic Arts, Inc. (EA) and GlassLab (a research and development initiative aimed at transforming learning practices through digital games). Educators can use SimCityEDU in the classroom to teach students STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects alongside traditional methods.  The website (which goes live in March 2013) reads:

Engage your students by using the SimCity game to make learning come alive! Create and share SimCity-based learning tools that address a wide range of subjects including science, math, civics, economics, and more.”

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