Play in the Museum: Design and Development of a Game-Based Learning Exhibit for Informal Science Education

Play in the Museum: Design and Development of a Game-Based Learning Exhibit for Informal Science Education

Jonathan P. Rowe (North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, USA), Eleni V. Lobene (Aon Hewitt, Washington, DC, USA), Bradford W. Mott (North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, USA) and James C. Lester (North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/IJGCMS.2017070104
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Digital games have been found to yield effective and engaging learning experiences across a broad range of subjects. Much of this research has been conducted in laboratory and K-12 classrooms. Recent advances in game technologies are expanding the range of educational contexts where game-based learning environments can be deployed, including informal settings such as museums and science centers. In this article, the authors describe the design, development, and formative evaluation of Future Worlds, a prototype game-based exhibit for collaborative explorations of sustainability in science museums. They report findings from a museum pilot study that investigated the influence of visitors' individual differences on learning and engagement. Results indicate that visitors showed significant gains in sustainability knowledge as well as high levels of engagement in a free-choice learning environment with Future Worlds. These findings point toward the importance of designing game-based learning exhibits that address the distinctive design challenges presented by museum settings.
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The affordances of digital games align naturally with the goals of museum education, such as fostering engagement in science, and enabling learners to manipulate, test, and explore hypotheses about the natural world (National Research Council, 2009). However, designing game-based learning environments presents several challenges. Game design is multidisciplinary, requiring close collaboration between software developers, educators, artists, testers, and other specialists. Games are complex, requiring myriad design decisions with uncertain impacts on learners’ experiences. Most notably, there is a dearth of evidence-based research on the design principles and methods necessary for creating effective game-based learning environments.

Reviews of the game-based learning literature have broadly concluded that games can yield positive learning outcomes across a range of educational subjects (Connolly et al., 2012). In recent years, a pair of prominent meta-analyses independently concluded that, in general, digital game technologies are often more effective than traditional instructional methods in fostering learning and retention (Clark et al., 2016; Wouters et al., 2013). Expanding on this conclusion, Wouters et al. (2013) advise, “the next step is more value-added research on specific game features that determine ... effectiveness” (p. 262). Clark et al. (2016) echo this argument, concluding, “[Research on game-based learning] should thus shift emphasis … to cognitive-consequences and value-added studies exploring how theoretically driven design decisions influence situated learning outcomes” (p. 116).

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