The effectiveness of instructional games: a literature review and discussion.

A 2005 report from the US Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division:

The effectiveness of instructional games: a literature review and discussion.

Author: Robert T. Hays.

Abstract: This report documents a review of 48 empirical research articles on the effectiveness of instructional games. It also includes summaries of 26 other review articles and 31 theoretical articles on instructional gaming. Based on this review the following 5 conclusions and 4 recommendations are provided. Conclusions: (1) The empirical research on the instructional effectiveness of games is fragmented, filled with ill defined terms, and plagued with methodological flaws. (2) Some games provide effective instruction for some tasks some of the time, but these results may not be generalizable to other games or instructional programs. (3) No evidence indicates that games are the preferred instructional method in all situations. (4) Instructional games are more effective if they are embedded in instructional programs that include debriefing and feedback. (5) Instructional support during play increases the effectiveness of instructional games. Recommendations: (1) The decision to use a game for instruction should be based on a detailed analysis of learning requirements and tradeoffs among alternate instructional approaches. (2) Program managers and procurement officials should insist that instructional game developers demonstrate how their game will support instructional objectives. (3) Games should be used as adjuncts and aids, not as stand-alone instruction. (4) Instructor-less approaches (e.g., web-based instruction) must include all “instructor functions.”

My notes: Though this is from 2005, from the military as opposed to the education sector, and is specifically focused on instructional games, there is much of interest and contemporary relevance in this literature review. It’s a long read, and written more plainly than comparable academic texts (though this aids the speed of reading). The author took a rigorous approach to weeding out candidate documents that may not be suitable for examination. Pages 37-41, “other issues in instructional gaming”, summarise a collection of interesting issues including adding instructional support to a game, learning using an adventure game, evaluator interest (and bias), the instructional value of a game developed for another purpose, and the importance of debriefing.

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