Current climate for digital game-based learning of science in further and higher education

Digital game-based learning as an alternative learning tool

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Dec 03, 2018

FEMS Microbiol Lett. 2018 Nov; 365(21) doi: 10.1093/femsle/fny237

Carla L Brown, Mary Ann Comunale, Brian Wigdahl and Sandra Urdaneta-Hartmann


Video games or digital games became embedded in human culture in the early seventies, establishing a digital ‘gamer’ community with the release of arcade games. Digital games like Pizza Tycoon and Start Up were recognized for their educational content; however, as these games were designed primarily for fun and entertainment, there were inherent limitations on their use as educational tools. In response to this, the educational gaming market began to grow. 

Although many of the early digital games for learning were of poor quality, significant advancements made in response to scholarly inquiry and research have helped improve, redefine and reassess this novel pedagogy. Digital game technologies and platforms have also evolved over the past few decades. However, the digital game classification retains the basic requirements of game play: a rule-based competitive play (for fun) with a clear goal, resulting in variable or quantifiable outcomes that are ranked.

Games designed entirely for educational purposes, also known as ‘serious games’, were first acknowledged as a growing trend in higher education by the NMC Horizon Report: Higher Education Edition in 2005. Key influencers at that time were the MIT ‘Games to Teach’ project and the research group at University of Wisconsin led by Constance Steinkuehler, PhD and Kurt Squire, PhD. They became recognized as serious game developers and game-based learning (GBL) research powerhouses. 

Today, interest in serious games is significant, as evidenced by the projected market growth from $3.2 billion in 2017 to $9.2 billion by 2023. This interest is also demonstrated in science education by an increase in scholarly research, game development and game use in many science disciplines.

This manuscript presents the current climate of digital game-based learning (DGBL) application in further (i.e. high school) in and higher (F&H) science education. A selection of games available for microbiology and other scientific fields are organized by the platform in which the game is played. To ensure a robust account is given, this paper only includes games that have been discussed in the primary literature or at scholarly events. In addition, barriers and strategies associated with DGBL in F&H education are discussed.


Go to the profile of Martin Delahunty

Martin Delahunty

Managing Director, InspiringSTEM Network

Founder & Managing Director, InspiringSTEM. Formerly, Global Director at Springer Nature. Highly experienced scientific technical and medical publisher. Extensive experience of working with international science research organisations, universities and academic researchers working on journals, digital communities and conferences. Proud UK Stem Ambassador. Experienced speaker and presenter. European Irish.

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