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Digital gaming and games for learning

Virtual soccer Everyone likes a good game; whether it be sports, cards, boardgames or digital games. Some of us have a guilty pleasure playing Candy Crush or feeding our virtual animals in Hay Day, while others use learning games for knowledge construction and behavioural rewards (Class Dojo). Used in moderation, digital games can provide a huge opportunity for exploration, problem solving and creativity (Enabling e-Learning: Games based learning).

These understandings also link to cognitive theories of learning such as:

  • Social theory of learning: Users can learn from each other through observation, imitation and modelling. Skills such as literacy, orally, competition, collaboration, problem solving are also developed.
  • Behaviourism theory of learning: Users respond to both positive and negative stimuli – making decisions that effect rewards (advancing levels, mastery learning, self esteem, feedback) or consequences (loss of rewards, virtual life). Children learn the rules of games quickly, and navigate through responses by themselves or with others.

Transforming learning

Knowing how learning theories can shape how we use gaming in the classroom is a great start. The challenge is to take our learners from passive users or recipients of games, where games can be used to transform, deepen learning. Students can also be encouraged to become game creators, designers and developers (constructors of knowledge), which also links to cognitive learning theories such as:

  • Discovery learning
  • Constructivism
  • Experiential learnning

Also see The psychology behind why gaming helps students learn (Enabling e-Learning Game-based learning research and readings TKI)

In this video, Rachel Bolstad (Senior researcher NZCER) talks about her research into the environment that games and simulations present for thinking differently about learning, and about what students and teachers might be doing. 

Enabling e-Learning: Games based learning (TKI)

Rachel suggests one of the best ways teachers can pick up ideas and explore their own use of games in the classroom, is by connecting with others and sharing. She asks,

  • How might you wrap a learning intention around immersive, engaging games that provide rich, complex learning experiences?

We ask,

  • How can games for learning and gamification fit in with the new Digital Technologies | Hangarau Matihiko in your classroom?

Want to know more? We’d love to hear from you. Also keep an eye out for the Spotlight on gaming webinars (over the next few weeks), exploring how students are both game users and game creators:

Spotlight smiley SPOTLIGHT WEBINAR: Gaming in education, April 5, 00.00am - 11.59pm


smiley SPOTLIGHT WEBINAR: 3D Gaming and virtual reality, April 12, 00.00am - 11.59pm


Virtual soccer image source


  • Sam McNeill (View all users posts) 26 Mar 2018 3:38pm ()

    Nice one Tessa,

    I must freely admit my natural inclination is to lean towards the conservative end of the teaching spectrum when it comes to game based learning, however over the last 12 months I've opened up a lot more as I've seen first hand some excellent examples of teaching across curriculum levels and age ranges, particularly with Minecraft:Education Edition.

    Full disclosure - I've worked in schools for the last decade but am now part of the MSFT Edu team.

    Being a bit of skeptic I've pushed pretty hard on whether real learning can take place within games like Minecraft;EE and have to admit I've been converted by some of the great examples and specific education features added, notably the coding elements and the latest chemistry update. A couple of links if readers are new to this:

    • A webinar I recorded with a couple of colleagues showing how to get started wtih Minecraft:EE along wtih a few simple curriculum ideas in action.
    • My example of using block based coding and JavaScript to build a replica Beehive in Wellington - I share all the code if you want to give it a go yourself.
    • Chemistry Update: teachers and students can conduct 'real' experiments within chemistry labs in Minecraft

    In terms of external research about game based learning wtih Minecraft I did find this one around the Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) framework. I'm not really across this in my teaching experience but wonder if anyone else is on this board? Here's the research and my synopsis of it:




    Good topic - will keep across this to see what other platforms people are using for game based learning,



  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 06 Aug 2018 12:03pm ()

    Here's a fantastic new snapshot from Enabling e-Learning (TKI), Gamified learning sparks engagement revolution at St Thomas of Canterbury College. It's a short read, well written and highlights the benefits of gamifying learning by:St Thomas of Canterbury College

    • introducing levelling up systems across units of work
    • incorporating gameful approaches and mechanics into lessons, such as immersive role playing, storytelling, and panic room and survival scenarios 
    • applying key concepts from STEM in gameful contexts, like building structures in Minecraft.  

    Most notable is the feedback from both students and teachers about how this delivery method has given students more pathways and choice and ownership (as well as fun) - for when/how they engage in their learning and how this is evidenced or assessed.

    The authentic theme of soccer skills has enabled students to tap into a current, authentic context which overlaps with P.E maths, science and Technology (STEM). Check out how the digital tools and technologies like Onenote, Minecraft and Sphero (spherical robots) are being used to enhance this process.

    Are you exploring future focused themes like gamification, STEM, STEAM, Makerspace? We'd love to hear about any projects or programmes you're trialing to help develop student agency. Feel free to drop some links or stories below. 

    Image source: Enabling e-Learning (TKI), Gamified learning sparks engagement revolution

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e-Learning: Technologies

e-Learning: Technologies

Where we explore how different technologies can support learning.