Games-Based Learning here we come!

Every day more of my attention has to turned towards my dissertation.  This blog was originally created as a way to explore games-based learning through my work as a student affairs professional in higher education. So the following post outlines what I plan to study through my dissertation as well as how it will add to education’s body of knowledge.

The Current State of Higher Education

Many higher education institutions largely focus on teacher centered pedagogy (Ahn & Class, 2011).  This means that teachers, and not students, are the center of the learning process. Conversely, experiential learning, focuses primarily on students as the center of learning (Kolb, 1984; Kolb & Kolb, 2005).

Experiential learning is learning through experience. This is best achieved in a personalized and socialized environment where knowledge creation is the primary goal.

However, higher education trends forecast a migration towards online learning (Chau, 2010).

This move towards online digital learning has decentralized the educational process, yet there remains a need for face-to-face learning in traditional physical environments (Holley & Oliver, 2010).

Why Games-Based Learning?

So why even use games-based learning? Astin (1984) studied college student involvement and discovered a relationship between students’ educational attainment and their participation in activities outside of the classroom.

We usually call these activities co-curricular opportunities and they range from student trips, programs, student government, community service, and study abroad.

These co-curricular opportunities engage students and are an important part of the educational process.

Based on this, I can see games playing an educational role in student development in a way that is interesting, engaging, and most of all: fun!

What is Games-Based Learning?

Games-based learning (GBL) is a process of using games to meet students’ learning outcomes and increase their educational engagement (Kiili, 2005).

Anyone can use GBL.  While many games-based learning games are created specifically for education (think Oregon Trail), any commercially available games can be applied. These include video, table top, or cards games.

Most research on GBL has concentrated on curricular (classroom) applications. Yet, there have not been any practical applications of GBL in co-curricular (outside of classroom) environments.

The opportunity to apply GBL outside of the classroom is great as it benefits learners holistically and places them in the center in the learning process.

Therefore my dissertation will examine how undergraduate students at a small liberal arts college explain and make sense of game play.  I hope that knowledge gained from this study will better inform student affairs professionals to apply games, game play, games-based learning, and gamification into their practice.

So why study this?

I really want to know how someone can apply experiential learning to games.  Specifically I want to know how students in a university settling benefit from games-based learning.

My thesis will provide a background on experiential learning as a framework for understanding games-based learning. Then I’ll provide both the rationale and reasoning for why this is important for higher education.  Hopefully what I discover will help faculty, higher education administrators, and student affairs professionals improve their work using games.


Games-based learning is the focus of my dissertation work. I am pursuing it because games promote a student centered learning format as opposed to a teacher centered one.  Games also allow students to learn via experience in a process called experiential learning.

I am interested in applying games-based learning to student’s co-curricular involvement. College students who are engaged outside the classroom benefit more than those that don’t.

I plan on using games in a games-based learning environment that promotes student development in a format that is interesting, engaging, and fun!


Dave Eng



Ahn, R., & Class, M. (2011). Student- centered pedagogy: Co-construction of knowledge through student-generated midterm exams. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 23(2), 269-281.

Astin, A. W. (1984). Student involvement: A developmental theory for higher education. Journal of College Student Personnel, 25(4), 297-308.

Chau, P. (2010). Online higher education commodity. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 22(3), 177-191. doi:10.1007/s12528-010-9039-y

Holley, D., & Oliver, M. (2010). Student engagement and blended learning: Portraits of risk. Computers & Education, 54(3), 693-700. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2009.08.035

Kiili, K. (2005). Digital game- based learning: Towards an experiential gaming model. Internet and Higher Education, 8(1), 13-24. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2004.12.001

Kolb, A. Y., & Kolb, D. A. (2005). Learning styles and learning spaces: Enhancing experiential learning in higher education. Academy of Management Learning and Education, 4(2), 193-212

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall

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