Kiili, K. (2005). Digital game-based learning: Towards an experiential gaming model. The Internet and higher education, 8(1), 13-24.


Drawing on the experiential learning theory and flow theory, Kiili (2005) presented “an experiential gaming model that facilitates flow experience” (p. 22). The model emphasizes the importance of immediate feedback, clear goals, and appropriate challenges in educational game design. Kiili (2005) pointed out that “the main purpose of the model is to link gameplay with experiential learning in order to facilitate flow experience” (p. 6). According to Kiili (2005), the flow experience, a state of full engagement in a certain activity, contributes to the impact of educational games. Though claiming that the new model “can be used to design and analyze educational games,” Kiili (2005) warned that other aspects need to be considered for a whole game design project.

Key points

  • To create meaningful and engaging educational games, game designers need to integrate educational theories and game design.
  • When an educational game generates flow experience, a state of full engagement, the educational benefits are more likely to be optimized.
  • Components that create flow experience include a clear set of goals, immediate and appropriate feedback, potential control, and a perception of challenges that are matched to the person’s skills, playfulness, speed and ease of use.
  • Games act as a vehicle to offer students opportunities to problem-solve. Though educational goals are important, educational game design should also pay attention to gameplay because it motivates and engages learners.
  • Experiential learning theory stresses “direct experience and reflective observation.” It “provides a fruitful basis for integration of gameplay and pedagogy” (p. 17).
  • According to Kiili (2005), “the experiential gaming model consists of an ideation loop, an experience loop, and a challenge bank” (p. 18). The challenges, the center piece in the experiential gaming model, are based on educational objectives. Games provide a playground for learners to overcome the challenge by generating possible solutions in the ideation loop, and experimenting, reflecting, and testing hypotheses in the experience loop.

Design principles and explanations

  • Immediate feedback, clear goals, appropriate challenges, and playfulness should be taken into account to create flow experience in the game-based learning environment.
  • Educational game design should pay attention to both educational goals and gameplay. Without due emphasis on gameplay, learners might not feel motivated or engaged in the educational game.
  • Based on educational objectives, the challenges in the game-based learning environment should fit learners’ current skill level and propel learners to develop possible solutions. Challenges that are significantly higher or lower than the learner’s skill level can cause anxiety or boredom.
  • To keep a player/learner in the flow state, the game should adapt to a player’s/learner’s behavior. In other words, with the player/learner becoming more skilled, the level of challenges in the game should also change accordingly.

An example article 

  • Kiili, De Freitas, Arnab, and Lainema (2012) examined the usefulness of the flow framework in the RealGame case study. The study revealed that the flow framework was instrumental in studying participants’ playing experiences, indicating that the framework could be used to design engaging educational games.

Discussion Questions

  • Kiili (2005) suggested that “in educational game design both dimensions, educational goals and gameplay, should be balanced in order to achieve a meaningful entity” (p. 18). What does it take to achieve the balance between educational aspects and gameplay?
  • Kiili (2005) mentioned that “The challenging task of educational game designers is to develop the sort of game worlds that support reflective thinking in the private world” (p. 22). What are the best ways visualize this “private” practice so that educators could monitor students’ progress and provide advice when necessary?
  • What are the weaknesses of Kiili’s (2005) experiential gaming model?

Additional Resources

  1. Kiili, K., De Freitas, S., Arnab, S. & Lainema, T. (2012). The Design Principles for Flow Experience in Educational Games. Procedia Computer Science, 15(C), 78-91.
  2. Kiili, K., Lainema, T., De Freitas, S., & Arnab, S. (2014). Flow framework for analyzing the quality of educational games. Entertainment Computing, 5(4), 367-377.



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