Brian Marchini

Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.


In this paper, we discuss the cognitive learning strategy of game based cooperative learning in its many forms. Discussions include the benefits and challenges associated with this strategy, and we review a detailed example of its use within a high school classroom environment.

Strategy overview

Game based cooperative learning is a cognitive learning strategy that employs the use of games as the delivery mechanism for education. There are many different approaches to incorporating games into education including role-playing games (Jong 2013), competitive trivia games (Bicen 2018), traditional video games incorporating educational elements (Huang 2013), simulation games (Anderson 2012), et al.

By itself, gamification is a learning strategy where the focus is to improve the motivation of students through motivation (Banikowski & Mehring, 2017). This can be accomplished by playing on the brain’s reward system of dopamine delivery when goals or milestones are reached which further drives students to continue seeking new rewards. This feedback loop acts as a hook that strongly engages the student to maintain their motivation and attention on reaching escalating higher levels of accomplishments.

Bin-Shyan Jong (Jong 2013) focused on several components necessary to for a success game based cooperative approach. First, the type of game needs to be tailored to age and learning needs. For example, elementary students tend to have more engagement with individualized environments while college students thrive in environments that incorporate a social, cooperative component having developed a higher level of social skills. Meanwhile, highschool students can incorporate some social aspects, but they also need incorporation of mixed media components in order to be fully engaged. Jong further states that for every age group, game based learning needs to be informal in nature (Jong 2013).

Diane Ketelhut (Ketelhut & Schifter, 2011) notes that today’s students are born and raised in a world where technology and access of information is common place, and as such, students prefer to learn multiple concepts in parallel in contrast to the traditional classroom which uses a more sequenced approach to education. She states that game based learning more closely aligns with how these newer generations prefer to learn (Ketelhut & Schifter, 2011).  

While game based learning appears to improve learning in students when done correctly, many educators are apprehensive to adopt this strategy into their lesson plans for a variety of reasons including a lack of technical skills needed to a misunderstanding of the necessary components (Ketelhut & Schifter, 2011). To address this concern, Ketelhut advocates a “train-the-trainer model” having faculty teach fellow faculty members rather than having this come down as a new directive from school administrations. Taking this approach has shown a much higher level of adoption among faculty and subsequent inclusion within the classroom (Ketelhut & Schifter, 2011).


Paul Andersen (Anderson, 2012) was honored as the Teacher of the Year in 2011 in Montana and as a finalist for the National Teacher of the Year in 2011. Anderson graduated from Montana State University and teaches AP Biology. Anderson began by investigating how students cooperated together when he left them alone to play Angry Birds in his classroom, and he was surprised by the levels of fun and cooperation used by his students. Seeing how excited his students were to cooperatively play games, he developed a game based curriculum for the following year.

Anderson designed his game to allow students to move at their own pace with a focus on mastery through repeated attempts rather than focusing solely on initial success. He accomplished this by creating a game “level up” component that continually challenged students. In addition, he focused on learning by making grade accumulation gradual in aligned with the gaming levels rather than telling them they all started with a perfect score with points lost as the semester progressed.

His game, Biohazard 5, included both a narrative and social component where the students worked in the same environment and could see each other progress. In order to maintain an adaptive pace, he created podcasts for lessons that the students were able to access after prerequisite level completion. He also incorporated activities from the game into the classroom with an emphasis on their application in the real world (Anderson, 2012).

To emphasize learning through failure, Anderson promoted immediate feedback and adaption from the students by allowing repeated attempts at quizzes with no penalty. He had them start the game at level zero, referred to as “Primordial Soup” and built their way up by level ranks such as “Dumbo Octopus” or “Mountain Gorilla (Anderson, 2012). Students seeing their rank in comparison to their peers which fostered both cooperation and competitiveness.

While Anderson had a great deal of success in terms of engagement, there were some faults in his initial approach. His approach was to allow to students independence in their progress, and while some students found success in this, other students who struggled fell behind as a result of a lack of pacing structure. Furthermore, students whose learning preference skewed towards visual learning struggled as most materials were text based. Most importantly, he began by focusing on individual learning, but given that humans are social in nature, he found that he had more success later in the program with the incorporation of more social aspects (Anderson, 2012)

Impacts on learning

Anderson states that the key benefit of game based learning is that it makes learning fun (Anderson, 2012). It encourages failures as positive steps toward success as opposed the traditional system which tends to focus solely on success. In the standard classroom approach, pacing is aligned with the average learning which leads to frustration for some challenged learners and boredom for faster learning. He states that this approach helped solve the problem associated with this pacing challenge. In addition, Anderson states that the greatest driver for continued student achievement was through the competitive checking of the classroom ranking system which motivated students to advance more quickly through levels (Anderson, 2012).

Jong notes students are more likely to review concepts that relate to goals of the game, and given the nature of games, the instant feedback provided by a game allows students to adjust your future strategies and approaches. In addition to this benefits, a cooperative approach also encourages students to work together on a solution by sharing their own successes and missteps. Jong agrees with Anderson in that students tend to thrive in situations where learning is informal and social in nature.

Nienke Vos (Vos, van der Meijden, & Denessen, 2011) suggests that game based cooperation introduces several additional benefits for learning. Vos suggests that students develop a sense of mutual dependency that spurs on group discussion.  These group discussions often lead to what Vos describes as “deep learning”  (Vos, van der Meijden, & Denessen, 2011, p. 128). When deep learning occurs, students need to fully understand the concept in order to apply it to other application with member interaction and peer assistance filing in any gaps in information.  This leads to students having a much stronger overall grasp of the course concepts.


In conclusion, cooperative game based learning is a strategy that promotes students to work together in either collaboration or competition to achieve goals with learning being the tools needed for success. This approach inspires motivation through emotion and creates a learning environment that is both engaging and fun. Difficulties of this approach include the level of set up needed as well as the buy-in of faculty.

Works Referenced

Anderson, P. (2012). Classroom Game Design: Paul Andersen at TEDxBozeman [YouTube Video]. Retrieved from

Banikowski, A. K., & Mehring, T. A. (2017). Strategies to Enhance Memory Based on Brain-Research. Focus on Exceptional Children, 32(2).

Bicen, H., & Kocakoyun, S. (2018). Perceptions of Students for Gamification Approach: Kahoot as a Case Study. International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning (IJET), 13(02), 72.

Herbet, S. (2018). The Power of Gamification in Education | Scott Hebert | TEDxUAlberta [YouTube Video]. Retrieved from

Jong, B.-S., Chien-Hung Lai, C.-H., Hsia, Y.-T., Lin, T.-W., & Lu, C.-Y. (2013). Using Game-Based Cooperative Learning to Improve Learning Motivation: A Study of Online Game Use in an Operating Systems Course. IEEE Transactions on Education, 56(2), 183–190.

Ke, F., & Grabowski, B. (2007). Gameplaying for maths learning: cooperative or not? British Journal of Educational Technology, 38(2), 249–259.

Ketelhut, D. J., & Schifter, C. C. (2011). Teachers and game-based learning: Improving understanding of how to increase efficacy of adoption. Computers & Education, 56(2), 539–546. Vos, N., van der Meijden, H., & Denessen, E. (2011). Effects of constructing versus playing an educational game on student motivation and deep learning strategy use. Computers & Education, 56(1), 127–137.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Close Bitnami banner