Putting it bluntly: business games seem to work

Thanks to Patrick Dunn for alerting me to Does Game-Based Learning Work?, a report by Richard Blunt of ADL. It seems this report dates back to January 2008, so apologies to those for whom this is old hat.

This extract from the abstract summarises the findings succinctly:

“Three research studies were conducted at a national university to examine the difference in academic achievement among students who did and did not use video games in learning. Three different video games were added to approximately half the classes of freshmen Introduction to Business and Technology courses, 3rd year Economics courses, and 3rd year Management courses. Identical testing situations were used in all courses while data collected included game use, test scores, gender, ethnicity, and age. ANOVA, chi-squared, and t tests were used to test game use effectiveness. Students in classes using the game scored significantly higher means than classes that did not. There were no significant differences between genders, yet both genders scored significantly higher with game play. There were no significant differences between ethnicities, yet all ethnic groups scored significantly higher with game play. Students 40 years and under scored significantly higher with game play, while students 41 and older did not.”

It’s important to make clear that all three of the games (Industry Giant II, Zapitalism, Virtual U) were essentially business simulations. The report does not describe how they were implemented, so there’s no evidence here to support the use of 3D or any other media. What we do know is that they were game-based sims, implemented using technology.

The findings indicate that the inclusion of the games in the curriculum was sufficient to raise mean test scores from 79.18% to 91.5% (Industry Giant II), 77.86% to 94.81% (Zapitalism) and 68,43% to 89.99% (Virtual U). As the abstract states, gender or ethnicity did not affect the results, but age did:

  1. Without use of the business sim, those aged 41-50 scored higher than younger age groups.
  2. When using the sim, the younger age groups were able to beat the scores of the older group.
  3. The scores of the older group actually went down when using the sim.

I can only guess on the causes here. Point 1 above could be explained by the fact that the older group had much greater life experience and therefore was less in need of a simulation to help them understand the dynamics of business. Point 2 seems to show that the sim in question contributed powerfully to the learning of the younger groups. Point 3 is a mystery – why would older students not benefit from the game? Were they technophobic? Did they feel patronised by the use of a game? Suggestions please.

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