Introduction to digital game-based learning

Course Details

Course code: EDUA11153

Course leader: Clara O'Shea

Course delivery: Sept 2021


As the use of games in teaching and learning is a developing field, with more potential than current manifestation, an inclusive definition of game-based learning will be used. The course will consider actual and potential application of existing commercial games in educational settings, games that have been specifically created with educational objectives in mind, and a wider array of practices in experiential learning that can broadly be described as game-informed and story-based. In parallel with this practical emphasis the course will provide a theoretical context for the relationships between games, play and learning.

Learning Outcomes

On completion of the course, participants will:

  1. understand the features, terminology, history and taxonomy of digital games
  2. be able critically to evaluate a range of games and game environments through theoretical perspectives, direct experience and immersion
  3. be able to evaluate and critically assess the relation between play, games and learning in formal and informal settings
  4. be able to design, describe and evaluate your own original approach to game-informed or playful learning in your own educational context.


The course is based on several threads of activity that run in parallel across the period of the semester.

The reading load, though challenging, is light relative to other courses on the programme, as there is an intention that participants should spend a significant amount of time in game play.  Academic study is based around a number of themes relating to games, play and learning, and participants are asked to focus particular attention on only three of these themes, and thus to become expert consultants for their peers.

Interaction and discussion on the course is synchronised by a series of activities – collaborative and competitive – that unfold week by week.  Participants will work – either independently, or in teams – to design playfully activities for other course participants to engage with.

Game play can be both individual and collective.  The collective play will make use of World of Warcraft and Minecraft.


Assessment of the course will be based on three elements.

1.  Critical review.  Participants will review a digital game and evaluate how it might inform learning in a formal, informal or non-formal educational setting.  This written report will be a maximum of 1000 words. (20%)

2.  Position paper.  Participants will write a critical reflection on their chosen course theme, relating this to their own education experiences.This written report will be a maximum of 1000 words. (30%)

3.  Playful design. Participants will design a game or game-informed playful activity (with or without dependency on digital technologies) directed towards the promotion of some specified learning outcome. The description and evaluation of this design will be a maximum of 2000 words. (50%)

Teaching Methods

Participants will engage with the course through synchronous and asynchronous online activities, guided reading and personal research, and game play.


Indicative content can be found in :

Gee, J. P. (2007). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.

Juul, J. (2013). The art of failure : an essay on the pain of playing video games. Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press.

McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is broken : why games make us better and how they can change the world. New York, Penguin Press.

Whitton, N. (2010). Learning with digital games : a practical guide to engaging students in higher education. London, Routledge.


As with all courses, you will be required to have regular access to a computer with a good broadband connection, and will be responsible for providing your own computing equipment and consumables. All core and some additional readings will be provided online.  Most games can be found in free-to-play versions (including World of Warcraft)