How can we apply game based thinking to increase learner engagement? Ben Betts shares at Learning Technologies eXchanges

by | Feb 4, 2013 | Articles

Mark Berthelemy reports on the  discussion with Ben Betts from this year’s Learning Technologies eXchanges 2013.

In a lively, international discussion, Ben Betts led us through the different ways in which games may be used to support learning, and provided a whistle-stop tour of the current research in this field.

Ben introduced us to the six categories of games-based learning that he had encountered in his research:

  1. Drill and practice
    An approach which is ideal for learning that requires simple repetition – ie. where retention is important. An important part of this is an element of challenge, such as beating the clock.
  2. Serious games
    An approach which takes the attributes of commercial games but for a “serious” purpose. There are two scenarios where a serious game is worthwhile:

    • For situated learning – where it’s important to replicate a particular environment and a high risk situation, where failure is not an option.
    • For cognitive development – where the aim is to develop deep understanding of principles, models and schemas. Eg. Fold It – a puzzle game about the structure of proteins.
  3. Commercial off the Shelf (COTS)
    These are games, such as Portal 2 and Minecraft which were created for entertainment, but that have been adopted by teachers to develop understanding of complex concepts.
  4. Alternate Reality Games (ARG)
    These have often been used in the context of marketing, but are starting to be adopted in a learning context. Given that marketing and learning are often both about changing behaviours, that’s not surprising. ARG’s take a mixture of fake and real information, both online and offline, to create a new reality in the mind of the audience. They are particularly good to help people explore human factors in situations.

  5. Simulations
    There is a question over whether these are really games, and there is some cross-over with serious games. Much depends on how you define “game” and also, not insignificantly, the perception of the person “playing” the Simulation – whether it is treated as a game or not.
  6. Gamification
    This is the process where a game-like characteristics is used in a non-game situation. Generally, these are included in order to induce particular behaviours in the participating people. However, it’s important to be careful that gamification doesn’t stimulate the wrong behaviours. Examples of these characteristics include:

    • incentives, such as recognition or reward
    • measurements of progress, such as levels
    • providing support or scaffolding at the point of need, and withdrawing it when it’s not required (this is based on the concept of the Flow Channel – see below)

The Flow Channel

The concept of a flow channel maps the difficulty of a task against the ability of an individual to do the task.

If the person is significantly more able than the task requires, then there is the risk that they will become bored. If the task is more difficult than the person is able, then there’s the risk that the person will become stressed. The ideal is a narrow band around the place where ability and difficulty are matched.

About Ben Betts:

Ben works at the intersection of business, learning and technology.  He specialises in Social and Games-Based Learning principles, with a focus on engaging learners in online collaborative learning.  Ben is the creator of the Curatr learning platform, which is used globally by companies and universities to engage their audiences in Rich, Active and Social eLearning.

He has an MBA, specialising in Organisational Change, and is in the final year of his PhD at the International Digital Lab, University of Warwick.  Ben regularly writes for journals and magazines in the USA and Europe and is contributing chapters to two books in 2012.

For more detail on the conversation and some of the ideas that came out, see the expanded version of this post on the Wyver Solutions website.


Ben took part in the Learning Technologies eXchange run by Towards Maturity and our partner Training Journal.Catch up with other #LT13UK eXchange sessions here.


Photograph courtesy of

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