What is Games-Based Experiential Education?

Games-Based Learning and Experiential Education are two concepts that are the heart of this blog.  But before we take a look at both, we should first define what each of them are.

First, what is Experiential Education?

“Experiential Education is an educational philosophy that describes the process occurring between a teacher and a student that infuses direct experience with the learning environment and content.”

Sometimes that teacher-student relationship is traditional: like classroom lecture or one-on-one apprenticeship. The main idea for educators to focus on is to make the EXPERIENCE the primary factor that promotes learning.  That experience should include the relationship between the student, the teacher, environment, and the content.… more simply experiential education can be summarized by the phrase:


The best part is that Experiential Education is already out there. Students know it from applications like internships, cooperative employment, study abroad, and service learning. All of these opportunities apply experiential education methods and directly infuse learning through the relationship between the student, teacher, content, and environment.

BUT, experiential education is not that simple. There are two major schools of thought on Experiential Education. They originate from John Dewey (1859-1952) and David A. Kolb (1939-).

Dewey’s philosophy centers on education being grounded in experiences.  Those experiences should be enjoyable in order to maximize the amount of learning that students accomplish.  In addition, that learning should not have any relationship to a job or clear application.

Conversely, Kolb’s philosophy centers on learning beginning with experience and addresses a four stage cycle of experiential learning. Unlike Dewey, Kolb believes that experiential learning should be related to some vocational application.

Kolb outlined four components of experiential learning: Abstract Conceptualization “The, Huh?”, Active Experimentation “The, Try”, Concrete Experience “The, Do”, and Reflective Observation “The, Think.”

But how does this all relate to games-based learning?

Let’s have a look at that definition:

Game-based learning (GBL) is a type of game play that has defined learning outcomes. Generally, game-based learning is designed to balance subject matter with game play and the ability of the player to retain, and apply said subject matter to the real world.”

Let’s think, what do games have?

Games have Abstract Conceptualization from players trying to discern objectives and what the goals of the game are. Games incorporate Active Experimentation in the form of turns, actions, and activity cycles.  They provide Concrete Experience via application of applied knowledge to game decisions.  Lastly, games provide opportunities for reflective observation in the outcome of activities and actions.

This means that there is a clear connection between Experiential Education and Games-Based Learning.  Both form their respective philosophies and their applications.

But what makes good games-based learning design?

Well, a great design should have at least have six important elements: flow, clear goals, feedback loops, scaled challenges, self-determination, and fun.

“Flow is a mental state where individuals are completely absorbed and engrossed in the activity” (Kiili, 2005). Great games fully engross their players and clearly link them in the environment created. Good games-based learning design also incorporates clear goals for players to achieve while providing feedback loops for individuals to determine if their actions are helping them achieve those goals. However, activity alone doesn’t make a great GBL application: tired challenges that continually test players while enticing their inner self-determination and intrinsic motivation is also necessary.  Lastly, great applications need to be fun.  If the game isn’t engaging and fun for players – then it won’t matter how educational it is.

Games-based learning’s strengths lie in its application to different learning styles by incorporating players abilities to see, hear, and touch content that they could not otherwise engage in. Games are also intrinsically motivating – people play them because they are fun and enjoyable.

Weaknesses in games-based learning lies in its ability to best support short term learning. Traditional educational methods (i.e. lecture) outperform GBL in long term knowledge retention.

Games-based learning also has applications in the digital realm through the use of simulations and pervasive ambient games.  These advanced applications can be played anytime and anywhere allowing players to engage with content via mobile devices in environments that blur the boundary between the virtual and real world.

Overall, games-based experiential education is an emerging and powerful field. Its applications for both students and educators are just now being realized.

Dave Eng

For a simpler and more visually pleasing explanation of Games-Based Experiential Education check out the infographic below.

Internet and Education Scholarship MASTER


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