Remember the days of Oregon Trail? How about Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? While learning games have been around for decades, technological advancements are creating an entirely more modern gaming experience—one where quality mirrors the digital literacy expectations of today’s student, one that entices the student to play and play again, and one that aligns a game’s outcomes with the goals of the course.

Every game teaches the player something, from the very basics of how to play the game to achieving the game’s objectives, whether it be killing zombies or winning races. As Eli Neiburger points out in the paper “The Deeper Game of Pokémon, or, How the World’s Biggest RPG Inadvertently Teaches 21st Century Kids Everything They Need to Know,” entertainment games are proven to teach very complex skills and knowledge.

Unfortunately, in today’s world, knowing how to kill a zombie or effectively battle Pokémon doesn’t necessarily translate to a useful skill. Below are three key components to successful game-based learning:

1. Mastery: What Level is Acceptable?

Mastery is a key component of measuring what a student has, in fact, learned. What do students receive if they achieve 90 percent mastery? In most situations, they receive an A, yet 10 percent of knowledge has been left on the table. And what about students who receive a B or C?

Consider what happens if students leave knowledge on the table year after year, from elementary school to college. While they may be earning A’s, there is a significant compounding knowledge gap.

Think about this: how would you feel if you knew the pilot who is flying your plane achieved 90 percent mastery? My guess is uncomfortable at best. Now imagine if I told you that the pilot achieved the 90 percent mastery by watching someone else, reading about it, and hearing lectures about it. Are you going to get on that plane? I know I wouldn’t. Yet this passive learning approach is exactly what we are offering students today, and then we wonder why they are not competent in the skills and knowledge they need to succeed.

Thankfully, this is not what is happening in the aviation industry. All pilots undergo rigorous hands-on training before they are allowed to fly. The same holds true for engineers, doctors, firefighters, police, and numerous other professionals who participate in experiential learning and on-the-job training before they are considered competent in their fields.

Now, take an experiential learning game. Students simply can’t progress to the next level until they achieve 100 percent mastery of the current level.

(Next page: 2 more components to successful game-based learning)

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