Teacher perceptions of the value of game-based learning in secondary education

Teacher perceptions of the value of game-based learning in secondary education

Table of Contents


Teachers’ perceptions of the usefulness of digital games might be a reason for the limited application of digital games in education. However, participants in most studies of teaching with digital games are teachers who do not use digital games regularly in their teaching. This study examined the practice-based perceptions of teachers who do teach with digital games – either playing or creating games – in their classroom. Semi-structured
interviews were conducted with 43 secondary education teachers. Our findings showed that most teachers who actually use games in class perceived student engagement with a game and cognitive learning outcomes as effects of the use of games in formal teaching settings. Fewer teachers mentioned the motivational effects of learning with digital games. The implications of these findings for the use of digital games in teachers’ educational practice are discussed.


Applications in subject areas, Media in education, Secondary education


Research suggests that digital games have potential as learning tools (e.g., Gee, 2007; Squire & Barab, 2004; Wideman et al., 2007). Recent reviews seem to confirm this potential of digital games to support students’ learning and their motivation to learn (Clark, Tanner-Smith, & Killingsworth, 2015; Jabbar & Felicia, 2015; Wouters, Van Nimwegen, Van Oostendorp, & Van der Spek, 2013). Despite the many studies of the learning and motivational effects of digital games, teaching with digital games is not yet widespread in secondary education (Bourgonjon et al., 2013; Proctor & Marks, 2013; Sandford, Ulicsak, Facer, & Rudd, 2006). Proctor and Marks (2013) reported that only 25.2% of teachers in secondary education use games in the classroom, whereas 60.6% of teachers in primary education use games. Negative teacher perceptions can be an important barrier to technology integration in general and to using digital games for learning, in particular (De Grove, Bourgonjon, & Van Looy, 2012; Ertmer, 2005). Teacher perceptions are important because teachers play a crucial role in selecting, implementing, and evaluating educational games for their students (Hanghøj & Engel Brund, 2011). Insights into teachers’ perceptions of the benefits of digital games for student learning, based on actual experience, may, therefore, provide us with a better understanding of teachers’ decisions to use digital games in their practice. However, insight into how teachers evaluate the usage of digital games as part of their usual teaching practices is currently lacking. Therefore, this study focuses on how secondary education teachers, who are actually using digital games in their classrooms, evaluate the value of digital games for learning. The aim of this study was to gain insight into what secondary education teachers regard as the learning and motivational outcomes of using digital games in the classroom.


The goal of this study was to identify teachers’ practice-based perceptions of their students’ engagement, motivation to learn, and learning effects when they taught with digital games. Research has shown that teachers ground their decisions about the use of technology in their teaching on their own experience and are convinced of the effects they perceive as the added value of technology-based on these experiences (Voogt, Sligte, van den Beemt, van Braak, & Aesaert, 2016). Teachers’ perceptions and experiences are thus important factors impacting on the actual use of digital games in teachers’ educational practice. Therefore, the current study focused on teachers who had actually used games in their regular teaching practice. We asked them to report the effects they observed in their classrooms. Our findings showed that teachers who actually use games in class perceived student engagement and cognitive learning outcomes as effects of the use of games in formal teaching settings. According to their teachers what students learned differed: game creation was usually linked to learning programming, whereas game playing was used to achieve a variety of goals, such as gaining insight into economic processes, and understanding causes and effects. This difference in perceived cognitive learning outcomes is probably related to the subject and the teacher’s goals with playing and creating games. Concerning game creation, teachers did not mention the benefits of game creation beyond that of learning programming (Greenhill, Pykett, & Rudd, 2008; Khalili et al., 2011). However, the teachers did mention that creating games can be used very well for practicing collaborative skills.

Motivation to learn and the acquisition of general skills were also mentioned as an effect of playing or creating games, but less than engagement or learning a subject. Our findings suggest that motivation to learn is more often observed by teachers who used games to play than teachers who used games to create. These findings corroborate results from previous research that studied teachers’ intentions for using games in their teaching. These studies found that supporting student engagement, learning, and motivation to learn are important reasons for teachers to use games in their classes (e.g. Allsop et al., 2013; Can & Cagiltay, 2006; Ince & Demirbilek, 2013; Li, 2013; Pastore & Falvo, 2010; Ruggiero, 2013; Sardone & Devlin-Scherer, 2008). The findings from the current study confirm teachers’ perceptions of the value of teaching with games in ecologically valid situations (e.g., the classroom).

The teachers in our study attributed the perceived motivational effects of the games to the authentic context (e.g., games simulating economic processes). In this authentic context, students could experience the value of connecting theory and practice because they needed to use what they learned in class to successfully play the game, thereby making what they had previously learned meaningful. The teachers’ experiences confirmed what has been mentioned in earlier research as being the potential of games: teaching with games can be an excellent way to provide an authentic context in that they can simulate reality and help provide meaningful learning (e.g., Huizenga, Admiraal, Akkerman, & Dam, 2009; Gee, 2007; Van Eck & Dempsey, 2002; Wastiau et al., 2009).

One of the elements that, according to the teachers in this study, contributed to student learning, is that students could learn in a safe environment (e.g., one where the consequences of failure are mitigated). Gee (2007) calls this the sandbox principle. Similarly, the teachers attributed other elements of playing and creating games that contributed to students’ learning: students were active, they received feedback on their actions, and the games made processes visual. Competition during gameplay was cited by the teachers as an important factor in producing all three perceived effects, except for classes where students created games. The teachers noted that the students sometimes created their own competition by comparing their progress with that of their classmates in cases where the competition was not built into the game. The perceived importance of competition is consistent with the study of Ruggiero (2013), in which teachers also mentioned competition as a positive aspect of using games in the classroom. However, although teachers view competition as an important element of a game that contributes to engagement, motivation to learn, and cognitive learning outcomes, the perceived effect of competition on learning and motivational outcomes is not self-evident. Van Eck and Dempsey (2002) and Vandercruysse, Vandewaetere, Cornillie, and Clarebout (2013) state that to date research on competition in games is inconclusive regarding learning outcomes and motivation. These researchers indicate a need for further research focusing on several forms of competition connected to the game or context elements that influence the behavior of different groups of students when playing digital games. In a meta-analysis, Clark et al. (2015) found that the effects of digital games on learning outcomes were larger with single-player games without competition and with collaborative team-competition games than with single-player games with the competition.

Limitations and suggestions for further research

This study has several limitations. First, the number of teachers participating in the current study was small and their perceptions were measured at one particular moment. As in several other countries (e.g., Bourgonjon et al., 2013; Proctor & Marks, 2013; Sandford et al., 2006), learning with digital games is also not widely applied in secondary education in the Netherlands. One of the reasons might be related to language: fewer games are available in Dutch than in other languages, such as English and Spanish. Because of this scarcity, we probably interviewed the pioneers of teaching with digital games in secondary education in the Netherlands. Therefore, the positive reports regarding the effects of teaching with digital games in this study might be positively biased. Secondly, although our teacher sample varied widely in terms of age, gender, teaching experience, gaming experience, and subjects taught, language teachers were missing from the sample because none of these teachers met our criterion of recently having used a game in the classroom. Previous research has shown that the use of games can be beneficial for teaching languages (cf. Proctor & Marks, 2013; Wouters et al., 2013; Young et al., 2012). The absence of language teachers may have influenced our results in that these teachers may have used other games and in other ways than the teachers in our study. Thirdly, the availability and usability of educational digital games for various school subjects may have also influenced our results. Compared with other disciplines, a wide variety of suitable games is available for information science and economics. For future research, focusing on certain subjects and on how students learn when using a game might be useful.

Practical implications

Our research has shown that secondary education teachers using games in the classroom perceive playing and creating games as useful for stimulating students’ motivation to learn, engage, and learning. Based on this research, the authentic context of games, the safe environment, the presence of feedback, the possibility to visualize processes, and competition seem to be features that make games meaningful teaching tools for secondary education teachers. Teachers’ perceptions and experiences are important in teachers’ decisions about the actual use of digital games in the teaching and learning process. For this reason, research should focus on providing a better understanding of how these features of digital games may foster student learning. An example is the importance teachers attribute to competition, although research has not yet produced consensus on this aspect of gameplay.

The teachers in our study had positive perceptions about playing or creating games for fostering learning and motivational outcomes. However, our study did not focus on how teachers incorporate digital games in their teaching practice. Research shows that the effects of technology on student learning are realized when teachers deliberately create opportunities for students to reflect on their learning (e.g. H€ Hamalainen € & Oksanen, 2014). Therefore, teachers should create opportunities for interactions in the classroom about students’ experiences when playing or creating games, by asking questions, having discussions, and adding assignments. Young et al. (2012) argue about the need for research on teacher-student and student-student interaction to better understand how students can learn from games. Not only do teachers need to choose the best game for their instructional goal, but they also need to find the right way and the right moment to create interaction with their students. Teachers may need to be better prepared for these tasks, and this preparation could help achieve better use of games in secondary education.

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The Kavian Scientific Research Association (KSRA) is a non-profit research organization to provide research / educational services in December 2013. The members of the community had formed a virtual group on the Viber social network. The core of the Kavian Scientific Association was formed with these members as founders. These individuals, led by Professor Siavosh Kaviani, decided to launch a scientific / research association with an emphasis on education.

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FULL Paper PDF file:

Teacher perceptions of the value of game-based learning in secondary education



J.C. Huizenga a, * , G.T.M. ten Dam a , J.M. Voogt a , W.F. Admiraal b
a Research Institute of Child Development and Education, University of Amsterdam, Postbus 15780, 1001 NG Amsterdam, The Netherlands
b Leiden University Graduate School of Teaching, Leiden University, Wassenaarseweg 62A, 2333 AL Leiden, The Netherlands




Teacher perceptions of the value of game-based learning in secondary education

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Computers & Education, Volume 110, July 2017, Pages 105-115



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Nasim Gazerani was born in 1983 in Arak. She holds a Master's degree in Software Engineering from UM University of Malaysia.

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Professor Siavosh Kaviani was born in 1961 in Tehran. He had a professorship. He holds a Ph.D. in Software Engineering from the QL University of Software Development Methodology and an honorary Ph.D. from the University of Chelsea.

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Somayeh Nosrati was born in 1982 in Tehran. She holds a Master's degree in artificial intelligence from Khatam University of Tehran.