Does game-based learning affect students’ achievement emotions?

By Winnie Tam, Centre for University and School Partnership, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Compared to traditional instruction, students learning through educational games might gain more in academic achievement. According to self-determination theory and control-value theory, game-based learning (GBL) promotes students’ positive achievement emotions (PAE, e.g., joy, confidence, hope) and reduces negative achievement emotions (NAE, e.g., anxiety, frustration, feeling empty) because educational games can be fun and students experience more freedom and autonomy with them. However, some scholars argue that too much leeway or failing to achieve goals in the game could lead to NAE (e.g., hesitancy, disappointment, upset).

recent meta-analysis by Lei and colleagues examined 61 effect sizes from 43 studies from years 2000 to 2021 to determine the overall effect of GBL on students’ achievement emotions (both positive and negative), and moderation effects (e.g., game type, cultural values, grade level). Eligible studies followed an experimental group design or a quasi-experimental design conducted in primary schools up to university. The results of the meta-analysis are shown below.

  • Overall, GBL increased students’ PAE (ES =+0.53) and reduced their NAE (ES = -0.52) while learning.
  • For cultural values, no significant difference was found in effects of GBL on PAE between students from individualistic cultures (e.g., Canada, Germany) and those from collectivist ones (e.g., China, Korea). But the effect of reducing NAE was larger for students in collectivistic countries (ES = -0.65) than those in individualistic ones (ES = -0.31).
  • In reducing NAE, non-digital games (k=4, ES = -0.97) were significantly better than digital games (k=17, ES =-0.37). But there was no difference between the two types in enhancing PAE.
  • The effect of playing games with others (ES=-0.90) on reducing NAE was larger than that of playing games individually (ES = -0.36). But no significant difference was found on PAE.
  • Both positive effects of PAE and negative effects of NAE were generally larger in higher grades, but smaller in primary school.
  • For academic subjects, the extent of reducing NAE was stronger in engineering and technology, but weaker in language, social science, science, and mathematics.

Though the operational definition of educational games of many studies included in this meta-analysis was not clearly and consistently specified, the authors believed that this study could provide some information for educators in designing / selecting games for their students. It should also be noted that the results of categories with fewer than five studies (k) require cautious interpretation.

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