The Efficacy of Games and Simulations for Learning

The Efficacy of Games and Simulations for Learning

Louise Sauvé (Télé-université, Canada), Lise Renaud (University of Quebec in Montreal, Canada) and David Kaufman (Simon Fraser University, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-731-2.ch016
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This chapter presents a synthesis of the literature (1998-2008) on the efficacy of games and simulations for learning. Based on definitions and sets of essential attributes for games and for simulations, the authors examine the contributions of each to knowledge structuring and the development of problem solving skills. Noting that games and simulations have positive learning outcomes in various situations, the authors present variables to measure the knowledge and skills developed by learners who use games and simulations. This work is intended to contribute to the development of an analytical framework for future studies on the efficacy of games and simulations for learning.
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The Problem

Because authors seldom distinguish among games, simulations and simulation games, the debate on the efficacy of (broadly-defined) “games” for learning, as well as their impact on other aspects of life (e.g., health, sedentary lifestyle, violence), draws many confusing comments on what games and simulations can achieve, not only for learning, but also as a societal phenomenon. Feinstein, Mann, and Corsun (2002) comment on their reaction to this amalgamation of terms:

This article arises from frustration, the frustration from reading a wide variety of papers each using words like simulation, games, role playing, gaming, and symbolic modeling either without definition or inconsistency from one work to another. (p. 732)

Some studies have shown that games and simulations provide favorable learning conditions, in particular through feedback, interaction and active learner participation; for examples, see Baranowski et al. (2003), Becker (2007), Egenfeldt-Nielsen (2005), and Jones (1998). Others (e.g., Bottino, Ferlino, Ott, & Tavella, 2006; Facer et al., 2004; and Garris, Ahlers, & Driskell, 2002) have demonstrated that games and simulations have an unquestionable efficacy for cognitive and emotional learning as well as motor skills.

In contrast, other authors1 claim that it is difficult to gather strong evidence on the effectiveness of games and simulations on learning because of certain research obstacles:

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