Why learning games are so powerful

There’s evidence to suggest that learning games are extremely effective elearning tools. Here’s the science behind why game-based learning works.

Learning professionals, instructional designers and entire workforces are increasingly recognising the myriad benefits of games in retaining information and becoming more effective at work. Games are often perceived as being frivolous and of little value to learning – incorrectly so.

However, the evidence suggests that their compelling nature has huge potential in creating engaging learning that drives knowledge accumulation and behaviour change.

As our working lives become busier and more complex, it’s a good time for organisations to harness games as a powerful learning tool.

Monopoly might be a famous boardgame but there's proof that game-based learning is a valuable tool to change behaviours in adults

The power of play

Until recently, there had been little data to back up anecdotal evidence that game-based learning can be a real force for good and play a key role in building and mastering new techniques.

The market value of serious learning games – games that have a purpose beyond amusing the player – is expected to reach $5.5 million by 2020 [1]. That popularity is now being backed up by results, including a study [2] of more than 6,000 retail employees in workplace training. The study found that:

  • Learners in a game situation answered significantly more questions correctly and had much longer correct answer streaks
  • Games motivate learners to log in and carry out training more often
  • Learners are more motivated to return and engage with game-based learning
  • Engagement among learners occurs even when games are used as a motivational hook

Learning games increase confidence, ability, retention

Companies which use games to enhance learning consistently reap the benefits across the board. Using on-screen characters as part of a virtual scenario, for example, has been found to result in 30% more correct answers than simply presenting text on a screen to the learner [3]. Computer-based simulation games result in 20% higher confidence levels among employees [4], and a review of 65 studies found that games are 17% more effective in terms of retention than classroom-based learning [5].

Research provides evidence for a strong business case

One of the best arguments for the use of game-based learning for adults comes by way of a peer-reviewed, open-access journal published by the National Library of Medicine. This publication offers real evidence that, compared with more traditional instructional methods, learning games can produce a higher motivation in learners by presenting content in an interactive and competitive way.

In a controlled trial [6] involving 145 medical students in their third year of training in the Department of Urology at the University Medical Center Freiburg, Germany, the students were divided as follows: 82 subjects were trained with an educational adventure-game, and 69 were given conventional training with traditional written content. Their learning outcome was measured with a 34-item, single-choice test.

The students were also quizzed regarding how much fun they had with the training, motivation to continue the training and self-assessment of knowledge they acquired.

A guy in the office using learning games as part of a training programme

If you think learning games are more fun than serious, think again

The study revealed that students in the gaming group achieved significantly better results in the cognitive knowledge test than the students in the traditional, text-based group. Out of a total of 34 points, the mean score was 28.6 for the gaming group and 26.0 for the traditional, text-based group. What’s more, attitudes towards the recent learning experience were significantly more positive with the gamers, who reported having more fun while learning with the game when compared to the traditional learning approach.

Researchers concluded that game-based learning is more effective than a script-based approach, has a highly positive motivational impact on learning, and results in higher outcome performance of students compared to a traditional script-based instructional approach.

Students who received the game-based training had a significantly higher cognitive learning outcome when compared with the students who learned the same material with text-based content. They also had more fun, wished to learn more in this style, and were more secure in regard to their knowledge of the topic.

The next question is “why?”

Using game-based learning to train adults at work can have excellent results

The science behind game-based learning

When learners participate in activities that stimulate their bodies or minds, they release hormones called endorphins. This stimulation is tied to playing learning games that challenge them or offer a chance for reward, even if that reward is something as simple as moving on to the next level of the game. When endorphins are released, the learners not only have more fun during the learning process but retain more information, get a boost in motivation and enjoy a more powerful and memorable learning experience.

It’s clear that learning games can help to make the overall elearning experience much more effective. If learners are having fun and are getting excited about learning, then they are more likely to actually acquire information. Game designers can even integrate gamification techniques such as leaderboards into elearning courses in such a way that learners won’t even know they are acquiring new information. This is often when real learning takes place: learners don’t have to deal with the stress that can be associated with learning, because they are too busy having fun and enjoying the course.

Zero Threat: engaging training for cyber-security awareness

Eukleia’s award-winning compliance-based training game, Zero Threat, was produced with our partners at Preloaded [7], a BAFTA-winning games studio. The game is an important tool which allows organisations to use an interactive gameplay environment to educate workers on the risks of cyber-attacks, ransomware, phishing, vishing, password hygiene and other cyber-security threats. Feedback from our global clients has been exceptional.

We’ve recorded a podcast between David Arnold, of Preloaded, and Kate Lander of Eukleia, about the thinking behind Zero Threat and the key role games have in high impact learning programmes.

A photo of a city as part of a blog on blended learning in compliance and governance

Looking for ways to transform your elearning courses into dynamic and rich experiences for your learners? Then why not try integrating games into your next training deliverable? Contact us today to find out more.

Want to experience the power of learning games yourself? Sign up for a trial of Zero Threat, our award-winning cyber-security awareness game.


[1] Markets to Markets, ‘Serious Game Market by Vertical, Application Platform, End-User and Region — Forecast to 2020’
[2] ‘Enhancing Motivation in Workplace Training With Casual Games: A Twelve Month Study of Retail Employees’, from Chief Learning Officer, ‘Playing Games Leads to Better Learning’, https://www.clomedia.com/2016/07/07/playing-games-leads-to-better-learning/
[3] Clark, R., Mayer, R, ‘E-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning’
[4] Sitzmann, T, ‘A meta-analytic examination of the instructional effectiveness of computer-based simulation games’
[5] Kapp, K, ‘The Business Case for Game Based Learning’ https://www.slideshare.net/kkapp/the-business-case-for-game-based-learning
[6] Boeker, Andel, Vach and Frankenschmidt, “Game-Based E-Learning Is More Effective than a Conventional Instructional Method: A Randomized Controlled Trial with Third-Year Medical Students,” National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3857775
[7] Preloaded and Eukleia are part of Learning Technologies Group plc. For more, go to ltgplc.com

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