Digital Game-Based Learning


What It Is

This is not a new concept, think Oregon Trail. That game was introduced in 1971. What’s changed is the technology. Currently, The New Jersey Education Association defines DGBL as:

Digital game-based learning is an instructional method that incorporates educational content into video games with the goal of engaging learners.


The article goes on to say that traditional teaching tools like texbooks doesn’t engage students as well as game-based tools and engagement is how “deep-learning” can occur. The interactive nature of the learning experience places an emphasis on close reading but at the same time helps develop skills other than reading, like problem-solving. This helps make them feel more invested.

Oregon Trail Screenshot

DGBL Vs Gamification

Two aspect of games such as rewards and leader-boards, have been around before education when digital. Think of Summer Reading tracking and prizes. But gamification puts a digital spin on it introducing things like badges. Yet it’s not the same as Digital Game-Based Learning. According to one DGBL company, Prodigy, the difference is:

  • DGBL — Offers a delicate balance between in-class lessons and educational gameplay. Teachers introduce students to new concepts and show them how they work. Then students practise these concepts through digital games.

  • Gamification — involves taking elements from games — such as leaderboards, levels, or points — and adding them to lessons. The purpose of this is to make lessons that might not be enjoyable more engaging for students.

Both of these strategies take things many children enjoy doing outside of the classroom and add them to their education. This helps students pay attention in class and improves their overall understanding of fundamental concepts.


Games like Prodigy, which is free, are built specifically for education.  However, games like Civilization can be used in history classes because the “single-player turn-based strategy game involves managing a civilization from 4,000 B.C. to modern times.” (Source:

Food for Thought

While Oregon Trail is an early version of Game Based Learning, it wasn’t the first. That honor belongs to Logo (on right), created in 1967.

Logo is a programming language that was designed by Seymour Papert and Wally Fuerzeig. Logo used a small cursor called a “turtle”. Users could program the turtle to move and draw lines through a series of codes.


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