Alaswad, Z., & Nadolny, L. (2015). Designing for game-based learning: The effective integration of technology to support learning. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 43(4), 389-402.


Focusing on exploiting game structures to design a game-based learning environment, Alaswad and Nadolny (2015) investigated what and how game attributes and elements could be leveraged in such design process. In the article, the authors reviewed 31 studies published between 2003 and 2014 to examine the common attributes of educational games, and their discussion centered on feedback, goals, interaction, and motivational elements.

Key points

  • The practices in designing a game-based learning environment match the backward design model which starts with learning goals and outcomes and continues with effective assessment and corresponding instructional activities.
  • Immediate feedback is a crucial attribute of good educational games.
  • “Clear and attainable goals” could benefit both the instructors and learners in a game-based learning environment.
  • Motivating elements such as badges and leaderboards could be used to recognize students’ performance and engage students by providing extrinsic motivation.

Design principles and explanations

  • Immediate feedback should be an integral part in building a game-based learning environment. Based on the results from the articles reviewed in the study, immediate feedback could increase learners’ motivation, promote reflective thinking, and support knowledge construction.
  • Setting clear and achievable goals is an important factor because it compels instructors to consider the fitness between the game-based learning approach and learning goals and it also increases learners’ self-efficacy.
  • Motivating elements such as rewards, badges, and leaderboards should be used to engage and motivate students. However, their use should be intentional to avoid negative impact. For example, students might be dejected because of their ranking on the leaderboard. The authors suggested that social leaderboards which make students winners as long as they meet the goals could be a solution.


  • Using a tic-tac-toe style learning game, Tsai, Tsai, and Lin (2015) investigated the impact of different feedback types, immediate elaborated feedback (IEF) and no immediate elaborated feedback (no IEF), on students’ learning outcomes. The results revealed that the IEF condition better enhanced the students’ energy knowledge acquisition.

Discussion Questions

  • What are the most challenging aspects in combining the instructional design process with game-based learning?
  • How should instructors decide which game attributes and elements should be integrated to design a game-based learning environment?
  • What should be done to ensure the compatibility between the chosen game attributes and learning goals?
  • What role, if any, should students play in this kind of design process?

Additional Resources

Gee, J. P. (2005). Learning by design: Good video games as learning machines. E-Learning, 2(1), 5–16

Tsai, F.H., Tsai, C.C., & Lin, K.Y. (2015). The evaluation of different gaming modes and feedback types on game-based formative assessment in an online learning environment. Computers & Education, 81, 259-269.


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