In 2005, Robert T. Hays, of the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division published the results of an extensive literature review on games for instruction. It is an expansive look at the literature on the effectiveness of games for learning up until the year 2005. Here is a link to the technical paper.
Here are some of his conclusions, findings and recommendations:
The conclusions are:
- The empirical research on the effectiveness of instructional games is fragmented. The literature includes research on different tasks, age groups, and types of games. The research literature is also filled with ill defined terms, and plagued with methodological flaws. (This is still true today, the literature is highly fragmented.)
- Although research has shown that some games can provide effective learning for a variety of learners for several different tasks (e.g., math, attitudes, electronics, and economics), this does not tell us whether to use a game for our specific instructional task. We should not generalize from research on the effectiveness of one game in one learning area for one group of learners to all games in all learning areas for all learners. (NOR should we generalize on the ineffectiveness of one game in one learning area for one group of learners to all games in all areas for all learners–in otherwords, games are high specific to a given content and group of learners)
- There is no evidence to indicate that games are the preferred instructional method in all
- Instructional games should be embedded in instructional programs that include debriefing
and feedback so the learners understand what happened in the game and how these events
support the instructional objectives.
- Instructional support to help learners understand how to use the game increases the
instructional effectiveness of the gaming experience by allowing learners to focus on the
instructional information rather than the requirements of the game.
Hays then makes 4 recommendations in the executive summary related to games, he also make some suggestions outside of the executive summary. I have complied a list of some of his recommendations from various places within his paper.
- The decision to use a game should be based on a detailed analysis of the learning requirements and an analysis of the tradeoffs among alternate instructional approaches.
- Program managers and procurement personnel should insist that game developers clearly demonstrate how the design of a game will provide interactive experiences that support properly designed instructional objectives (see for example, Gagn6 & Briggs, 1979; Merrill, 1983; 1997 for guidance on the proper design of instructional objectives).
- Instructors should view instructional games as adjuncts and aids to help support instructional
objectives. Learners should be provided with debriefing and feedback that clearly explains how their experiences with the game help them meet these instructional objectives.
- Instructor-less approaches (e.g., web-based instruction) must include all “instructor functions.” These include performance evaluation, debriefing, and feedback.
- Unfortunately, many program managers and game developers do not appreciate the importance of instructional design. They often assume that the game is sufficient, in itself, to provide the necessary instruction. Squire (2005) conducted case studies of three companies that develop game-based learning products. “It is worth noting that none of the featured companies started in instructional design…they come from business strategy, marketing, and the games industry”. Although each company used interdisciplinary design teams to create their instructional games, none of the teams included instructional developers. The teams usually consisted of: 1) graphic artists, 2) program
managers, and 3) programmers. Commenting on the avoidance of instructional designers, Squire stated, “Most game-based learning approaches do not employ that particular category of expert whatsoever” (p. 35). In most cases, the game designers fulfilled the role of instructional developer. It appears that the “instructional gaming” industry does not value the skills of instructional developers.
My conclusion is that more instructional designers need to get involved with instructional game design.