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TOOLS FOR LEARNING - Spirit of Play, Game-Based Learning--A Serious Look at Companies ‘Gaming the System’ for Academic Excellence

By Victor Rivero - Posted Sep 1, 2017
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Spirit of Play:

Game-Based Learning

A Serious Look at Companies ‘Gaming the System’ for Academic Excellence.

The market in games designed for education or training, also known as “serious games,” is forecast to hit $3.2 billion in revenues globally this year en route to more than $8.1 billion in the next 5 years, according to a new report from market analyst Metaari. The numbers reflect off-the-shelf products and don’t include hardware, devices, platforms, tools, or custom content development services. The report mentions several catalysts driving the market, including fast-fading resistance to learning games; growing availability of development tools; innovations in augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR); an upsurge in next-gen games coming to the market; and, last but not least, the impending rollout of very fast 5G networks. Consumers are the top buyers, followed by primary schools and corporations. Early-childhood and language-learning games were among the top sellers.

All of this is no surprise, but how will serious games integrate into existing learning experiences? Even if students love them, will teachers, instructors, school administrators, and even employers go for them? And are they actually proven to get results? In other words, can we really take them seriously?

Well, check here below, as there are plenty that have already taken over the academic leaderboard and are bursting through the top to the winner’s circle in classrooms and campuses across America. Then check out our sidebar, Gaming in the Classroom: Some Research, on page 5 to see what some early researchers are saying about the efficacy of gaming in education.

Games, Games, Games

Arcademics. Free multiplayer educational games for math, language arts, spelling, and geography.

Big Numbers. A gold award winner at the 2017 Serious Play conference at George Mason University, this math learning program from DragonBox does it right.

Classcraft. Transforms classes into immersive adventures, a collaborative experience using game mechanics to engage students. (See Sally Finley’s review on page 15.)

CodeCombat. Learning to code is as easy as playing a game.

Curiosityville. Personalized learning world from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for schools connects children, educators, and families.

DreamBox Learning. An adaptive online K–8 math program designed to complement classroom instruction.

Exotrex Science Adventure Game. The human race is on the brink of extinction in this space science adventure from Dig-It! Games.


FriendsLearn. At the intersection of medicine and technology is this “learnified” 3D, real-time game platform.

GameUp. BrainPOP’s curated collection of games for all subjects features top learning outfits including Empirical, Field Day Labs, Filament Games, and Wilson Center.

Inanimate Alice. Combining text, sound, imagery, and game elements, this story-based learning experience from Bradfield Co. is like no other.

iTooch. This mega collection of educational activities from eduPad is based on U.S. Common Core standards.

Loot Pursuit: Tulum. Another offering from Dig-It! Games, users dive into the ancient world of the Maya to save their artifacts from greedy hands.

Makey Makey. From the maker movement, there is play in learning, and Makey Makey tinkering is a definite path to learning. Contains some of the most original and playable math games out there, including Jabara (algebra made easy), The Wrecks Factor (quadratic fun), and A Tangled Web. (See Sally Finley’s review on page 14.)

Matific. Helping to improve math test results by at least 34%, this product from Slate Science helps educators convey math and scientific thinking to students.

Motion Force. A physics learning game from Filament Games is aligned to Common Core and Next Gen Science standards.

Math and Language Arts. IXL, a technology company innovating education, uses plenty of game elements to personalize the student experience.

Med Term Scramble. A free game from Pearson Higher Ed helps test medical terminology knowledge.

Numbershire. A next-gen early math learning game from Thought Cycle with support from a team of veteran game developers.


Nancy Drew: Sea of Darkness. Set a course for danger and discovery in this enticing game from Her Interactive featuring puzzles, hints, and intrigue.

Osmo. From Tangible Play, this is a great way to get screen-gone kids back into the physical universe with play and learning.

PaGamO. An online social gaming platform from BoniO covers English learning, license exams, and corporate training; more than half a million players compete.

PBS Kids. A jackpot of cool learning games for young children from a reputable source.

Prodigy Math Game. Prodigy bills itself as the most engaging math platform in the world. Half a million teachers agree.

QwertyTown. This product from Second Nature Learning helps students become fluent with a keyboard and learn online communication skills as well.

Reach for the Sun. A plant growth learning game from Filament Games is standards-aligned and literally helps students flourish.

Reflex. An adaptive, individualized math fact fluency-maker from ExploreLearning.

Skoolbo. Built by a team of educators and developers spanning the globe;, Skoolbo helps with reading and math by ensuring students are always receiving the right level of difficulty.


simCEO. This product from Jetlag Learning emphasizes a learner’s interest and fosters meaningful play.


Sokikom. An online collaborative K–5 math program with proven results.

ST Math. Who doesn’t love this little penguin from Mind Research? Its simplicity is what lifts a student from lower to higher levels of complexity with total ease.

Taken Charge. A browser-based video game series from Galvanize Labs for teaching technology to students also assesses and validates learning.

Variant. Inspiring students to succeed through game-based learning, Trisuem Games was established in conjunction with Texas A&M University; its Variant game brings calculus to life in movie-quality format. (See Charles Doe’s review on page 16.)

VocabularySpellingCity. Building literacy skills with research-proven results and a lot of easy fun.

Wowzers. Math adventures for K–2 math; students love it.

“Games mirror the way the human mind was designed to learn,” says Mitch Weisburgh, partner at Academic Business Advisors and co-founder of Games4Ed, a leading nonprofit group comprised of individuals from all areas of the education sector—policymakers, administrators, teachers, game developers, publishers, and other stakeholders—brought together to explore the possibilities and issues regarding the use of game-based learning. Games “motivate players to take risks and actions, persevere through failures, set and achieve increasingly difficult goals, and devote attention, time, and effort to acquiring knowledge and skills. All this while the game is tracking the player’s actions and assessing the player’s achievements and skills. Isn’t this what we want from education?”


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