Gamification and Games-Based Learning


Ashfaqul Islam

Ashfaqul Islam (
University of Ontario Institute of Technology


Game-based learning or Gamification of learning is used in many classroom environments to ensure students have a deep learning experience and be well equipped to reflect upon their newly acquired knowledge. In pedagogy this is a good tool to have in any educator’s arsenal as it can help learners clearly identify cause and effect, remove extraneous factors, create an abstracted reality and easily grasp key concepts (Kapp, 2012).

In the recent past this form of teaching methodology has come up against major criticism, mostly due to its diverse approach. In my opinion it’s a successful mashup of education and technologically forward approach to teaching. Many pedagogy gurus would argue that games are for lone teenagers seated in front of a computer (Williamson, 2005). This criticism can easily be written off because many games in the 20th century are, multiplayer online games: games where thousands of players are simultaneously online at any given time, participating in virtual worlds with their own economies, political systems, and cultures (David Williamson, 2005). Many other critics are opinionative suggesting that, it’s an unfair form of manipulation, exploiting students by changing their learning and it poses a negative effect as a Marketing Gimmick (Tae Wan Kim, 2016).

This chapter will work towards creating an educated rebuttal against the critics by identifying examples of ways in which games can be beneficial towards a deep learning experience. To further instantiate the usefulness of Game Based Learning/Gamification in education, we will investigate how it is utilized in the aviation industry, by providing specific examples of how games or gamification is used to enable student development for pilot training.

Keywords: Gamification, Game-based Learning


To introduce how the aviation industry has used game-based learning, we must first identify the variation of game types that can be used in education, such as Educational games, Online Games, Leisure games and for the purposes of aviation, Simulators. Simulators are one of the oldest form of Game and have been used by military, car manufacturers and more recently by commercial aviation. “Historical and quasi-historical simulations like Sid Meier’s Gettysburg allow gamers to replay military conflicts under different conditions” (Freitas, 2006). Users playing these games get a better understanding of how to handle real world scenarios. Evidently, Sid Meier games aren’t only played by military personnel, so it can be played as a leisure game.

The Microsoft Flight Simulator series on the other hand is sold to the general game consumer, but it is designed for current or upcoming pilots who would like to simulate real life flight scenarios without having to pay for hours on a real aircraft or a real simulator (Lackey, 2006) The first of the series dated back to 1984 and since then Microsoft has made giant leaps which have lead the company to develop a simulation game that is as close to real as it can get. Flight Simulator X entered the market in 2006 and had great success. Research shows that training pilots using a simulator allows for, what is known as Adaptive Training. Adaptive training has come to refer specifically to the automatic adjustment of the difficulty, complexity, or newness of a training task as a function of the individual student’s progress. (Williges, 1973) This forces trainees to advance appropriately with increasing student proficiency.

Some question how simulators are useful to pilot training. Simulators are a good bench mark of how a trainee will perform as a future pilot, simulators also reproduce the aerodynamic responses of an aircraft with accurate precision giving trainees close to real experience and lastly simulators are an affordable way for licenced pilots to maintain their proficiency. The main reason why I endorse the Flight Simulator is because of the degree of safety it provides pilots to simulate dangerous scenarios within a safe environment. This experience would be invaluable if pilots carrying a commercial airliner, were forced to execute procedures they have practiced in a simulator. The degree of expertise gained from simulators shows the effectiveness of such training using merely a video game, pilots can replicate mid-air engine failures, landing gear malfunctions, cabin depressurization and many other life-threatening cases. This chapter will further analyze how Game based Learning and Gamification enables the Microsoft Flight Simulator to achieve training success.

Game Based Learning vs Gamification

Prior to taking a nose dive let’s have a thirty-thousand-foot level look at how the two teaching approaches differ from one another. Gamification is described as the usage of game-based mechanics, aesthetics and game thinking to engage people, motivate action, promote learning, and solve problems (Kapp, 2013).

Whereas Game-Based learning is mostly emphasizing that it is a type of game play with defined learning outcomes and it is assumed that the game is a digital game. It is important to note that in case of Game-Based learning, the sole use of an actual video game is to find a balance between the student’s desire to play a game and enable educators to cover the subject matter (Plass, 2015).

Games in Aviation

Purpose of the below section is to illustrate how flight simulators are utilized in creating a learning environment which incorporates both Game-Based learning and Gamification. The wide angle perspective is to justify the success of simulation games as an Educational Technology in the aviation industry and promote simulators a tool to be used in other fields of work where the difference between making the right and wrong decision is vital.

Game-Based Learning in Flight Simulators

A study by Mengxiang Li (2014) looks at two key elements of game-based learning which are game complexity and game familiarity. Game complexity refers to the extent to which the game demands human cognitive capacity and game familiarity reflects the degree to which a user is familiar with the schemata of a game. This is an important concept because, these gaming elements can invoke cortical activities in the prefrontal cortex, and thus lead to engagement (Mengxiang Li, 2014). Effectively, this is the kind of engagement pilots require as spending hours in a virtual simulation can take a toll on one’s attentiveness towards the material being taught.

Why Games for Pilot Training?

A study by Adamson and Taylor (2014) focused on one of the most common pilot errors which is execution of an accurate landing. The most common causes of accidents identified in their study is improper landing approaches made by pilots in low visibility situations.

It’s difficult to replicate dangerous weather scenarios to put pilots into the appropriate circumstances demanding their correct decision making. Also, given that 70% of lethal crashes have taken place where incorrect planning and decisions making translated into disaster, training institutions such as CAE and Flight Safety Corporation are inclined to using video games such as Flight Simulators to replicate the scenarios instead.

Adamson and Taylor’s (2014) study further looks at how a sample group of pilot’s brains reacts to real-world danger scenarios. The study’s results show that pilots who executed multiple iterations of dangerous landing using Flight Simulator versus pilots who didn’t, required lower brain activity to make executive decisions. The study calls this neural efficiency, which shows a positive correlation between using Flight Simulators and building pilot experience or expertise.

Gamification of Flight Simulator

Taking an entirely different route is Gamification of flight training. In the commercial realm it might fly to promote the idea of Flight Simulators being a video game but flight training of military pilots calling simulators a game may be frowned upon as the nature of military training is very formalized. Thus, Flight Simulators are considered a non-game virtual world where military pilots are trained.
Despite the military training being formalized there are aspects of Gamification for combat pilot training. This is done by adding game elements to a non-game situation through incorporation of awards, achievements and experience points. (Nistor, 2018)

How does Gamification take Flight in Simulators?

A study by Bell (1998) evaluates the effectiveness of flight simulators for training combat skills. The pilot skill evaluations are based on three major categories which include utility evaluations, in-simulator learning and transfer of training. The evaluation aspect we will focus on is in-simulator learning as it directly relates to knowledge consumed from simulator flying and practice.

Pilots are put into teams that fly two different types of missions, Air-to-Surface Combat Training and Air-to-Air Combat Training. Dissecting the Air-to-Air Combat, pilot performance is evaluated based on factors such as successful first shot fired, valid shots and number of missed shots.

Other challenging factors such weather, resource, communication and technical restrictions are added by instructors to each mission which ensures pilots are always kept on their toes. Though there is no formal presentation ceremony for the winning group of pilots, the competitive nature of the training system demands better performance from the trainees.

The Roundup

With the assistance of the various examples mentioned in this chapter, it is safe to conclude that there are many benefits to using Game-Based learning and Gamification. These learning tools used in simulators can certainly improve student success in any similar curriculum, shown by its usage in the Aviation industry. I believe it’s a tool for educators and when used appropriately, it can reap rewards. There will always be criticism for any newly introduced approach for pedagogy, due to its diversity from the norm.


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Technology and the Curriculum: Summer 2018 Copyright © 2018 by Ashfaqul Islam is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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