The emergence of the Internet has had a significant impact on higher education where we have seen elearning evolve from a marginal form of education to a commonly accepted and increasingly popular alternative to traditional face-to-face education. While e-learning has many advantages, there have been problems identified, such as lack of contact leading to feelings of isolation; the need for a motivated, self-disciplined, and mature learner; the monotonous nature of some e-learning materials; and increased drop out rates. If e-learning has developed a reputation for being ‘boring and mindless,’ games have developed the reputation for being engaging and challenging. In recent years, a new form of learning has been developing, namely games-based e-learning, which builds on the successes of e-learning while providing a more stimulating and relevant learning environment for younger people who have been brought up in an environment of powerful home PCs, graphic-rich multiplayer Internet gaming, and mobile phones with ever-increasing functionality. This article will explore the concept of games-based e-learning, discuss some of its pedagogic underpinnings, and examine barriers that may limit the uptake and development of this relatively new approach to learning.
The emergence of the Internet as a new resource and communication medium has significantly changed many aspects of society, and, expectedly, it is having a similar impact on higher education (HE). Globalization has led to a blurring of national educational boundaries leading to a globalization of education, with many educational institutions searching for new markets that previously were unobtainable. The demand for higher education is significantly expanding throughout the world, a situation widely attributed to the changing nature of employment, where a job for life is no longer the norm, and to the arrival of the ‘knowledge-driven society.’ As a result of globalization and the push for mass higher education from both government and society, and to meet the growing needs of higher education in responding to demands for flexibility, widening participation, continuing education, and lifelong learning, institutions across the world are under pressure to integrate new technologies into teaching and learning (Connolly, Stansfield, MacArthur, & McLellen, 2007). With increased student numbers and increased pressure on HE resources, there is a drive to improve efficiency and management of the administrative elements of learning, teaching, and assessment. Virtual learning environments (VLEs) and online assessment systems integrated into other management information systems are regarded as being capable of improving efficiency and decreasing some costs.
In the last few years, we have seen e-learning evolve from a marginal form of education to a commonly accepted and increasingly popular alternative to traditional face-to-face education. Some faculty members are strong proponents of online learning and believe online courses can provide educational opportunities to learners who would otherwise have to do without. They also believe that the quality of these courses can be comparable to traditional place-bound courses. However, there are also many faculty members who are suspicious of such courses and have significant reservations about the loss of face-to-face contact between instructor and learner. While not entirely rejecting this medium, many of these faculty members use a ‘blended approach’ to learning (a ‘middle ground’).
However, e-learning has been termed ‘boring and mindless’ because of its current lack of interactivity (Aldrich, 2003). It can have potentially high drop-out rates, and some view it as an isolated and generally uninspiring learning experience. On the other hand, modern computer games are recognized as the industry standard for the design of engagement, interactivity, immersion, and collaboration, and give educators an insight into how e-learning can be enhanced to provide a more engaging and challenging learning experience.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Computer Game: Same as Game but played on some form of computing device, such as a PC, a games-console like Playstation 2, Microsoft Xbox, or Nintendo GameCube.
Games-Based E-Learning: The use of a computer games-based approach to deliver, support, and enhance teaching, learning, assessment, and evaluation.
Constructivist Learning Environment: A place where learners may work together and support each other as they use a variety of tools and information resources in their guided pursuit of learning goals and problem-solving activities.
Simulation Game: A game in which participants are provided with a simulated environment in which to play.
Games-Based Learning: The use of computer and noncomputer games, such as card and board games, to deliver, support, and enhance teaching, learning, assessment, and evaluation.
Game: An activity that is voluntary and enjoyable, separate from the real world, uncertain, unproductive (in that the activity does not produce any goods of external value) and governed by rules.
E-Learning: The use of digital technologies and media to deliver, support, and enhance teaching, learning, assessment, and evaluation.
Constructivism: A philosophical, epistemological, and pedagogical approach to learning, where learning is viewed as an active process in which learners construct new ideas or concepts based upon their current/past knowledge. The learner selects and transforms information, constructs hypotheses, and makes decisions, relying on a cognitive structure to do so.
Simulation: A representation of some real-world system that can also take on some aspects of reality for participants and users. Key features of simulations are that they represent real-world systems, contain rules and strategies that allow flexible and variable simulation activity to evolve, and the cost of error for participants is low, protecting them from the more severe consequences of mistakes.
Online Learning: Any class that offers its entire curriculum via the Internet thereby allowing learners to participate regardless of geographic location (place-independent), theoretically 24 hours a day (time-independent).