Researching Game-Based Learning: A Brief Synthesis Project


  • Jenifer Jenson The University of British Columbia
  • Suzanne de Castell Simon Fraser University



Game-Based Learning, learning ecologies, engagement, motivation


The purpose of this research synthesis project is to survey existing digital game-based learning (DGBL) research in order to generate preliminary categories that articulate analytically distinguishable cognitive competencies. These include orientations, attitudes, interactions, and dispositions that enable cognitive development through playing games. We compile an initial literature scan, limiting the language to English, then search via keyword “game-based learning” through the following educational research databases: Eric, Education Source, Communication & Mass Media Complete, Education Index Retrospective, and Teach Reference Center. This returned over 1,500 results, which we refined by filtering out papers focused on gamification, those researching populations outside of educational contexts (e.g., private business and healthcare), systematic and scoping reviews, and papers published before 2010. This focused the results closer to 1,300 papers, which we divided into two categories, research focused on learning ecologies, and research using “motivation” in its key words and/or abstract. One clear and unexpected result was the way in which DGBL research inconsistently discusses motivation, and how it mainly seems to be used as a catch-all for measuring GBL outcomes. This brief synthesis reveals that much more attention needs to be paid to whether and how potentially pat constructs like motivation are being deployed in GBL studies.