Game Based Learning, Brain Based Learning, and Problem Based Learning, Oh My!

Game Based Learning, Brain Based Learning, and Problem Based Learning appear to be heavily utilized in classrooms these days. These learning approaches all have benefits and potential negatives, but the idea is to increase student cognition. Which approach should educators take? In theory, like assessments, educators can take all approaches; as long as they are used appropriately.

However, here is some extensive information in order to help you decide what you want to use and what you might feel comfortable using.

Game Based Learning:

Game Based Learning, in its simplest terms, is utilizing games in the teaching process. The goals are the same as traditional teaching methods; to produce student growth, creativity, and problem solving skills. Game Based Learning requires proper instruction and proper participation. In GBL the game utilized to enforce teaching needs to relate to the concepts being taught. For example, in Business courses Stock Simulators may be used to enhance content related to investing.

What are the benefits of using GBL in the classroom? Students further develop problem solving skills and are not reliant on instruction during the whole process. Students may be more engaged because they are allowed to “play games” in the classroom. When using this approach it is possible for students to address multiple learning outcomes at one time.

Sounds great right? Well, there are some negatives too. The major issue is making sure the technology works when it is needed. If the game is web-based and the internet is down the process cannot be utilized. If the game is handheld and the batteries run out the process is halted. With GBL the instructor has to be very familiar with the game in order to solve any issues that may come up in class. The game may freeze, the students may be stuck at a certain point, and the instructor needs to be able to resolve the issues quickly to continue instruction. The instructor needs to develop clear learning outcomes associated with the game for the administration to even allow utilizing the Game Based Learning approach.

So, how do I use Game Based Learning Effectively? First, identify a game or games that tie into multiple learning outcomes within the course curriculum. You will likely need to identify and defend the reasons for using Game Based Learning within your classroom. Once you have received approval to use games and the Game Based Learning approach in the classroom it is important to spell out the rules associated with the process. Students need to understand that the goal is to reach learning outcomes in a fun way; not just to play a game. Once students are aware of this it will become clear that learning is expected. Run a soft launch, perhaps with an assessment attached to demonstrate to students what will be expected. This will help the students and help identify any issues that may need to be addressed in the future. Do not use the approach during the entirety of a classroom session. If an entire class meeting is devoted towards a game students may not be as engaged in the future when it is utilized again. Utilize this approach as an embedded tool within the classroom. GBL should enhance instruction, problem solving skills, and self directed learning.

Brain Based Learning:

Brain Based Learning, refers to efforts taken to increase cognitive skills based on research related to the brain. Brain Based Learning looks to develop skills within a student. The goal is to prevent limitation of what students are capable by exercising all aspects of the brain; socially and emotionally, as well as, through traditionally means. Creating, Evaluating, Analyzing, Applying, Understanding, and Remembering can all be resolved using different parts of the brain; BBL looks to extend all capacities.

What are the benefits? The main benefit of utilizing the Brain Based Learning approach is that the potential to develop a stronger student is there. Breadth of knowledge and breadth of skills is more likely if all aspects of cognition are addressed; especially from an early age. It builds on scientific research and is supported by development theories. It is much easier to provide proven, accepted support to using this method in teaching if you are ever asked to defend your choice in utilizing this approach. Since emotional intelligence, social intelligence, and general intelligence are addressed through this approach students are more likely to be successful in career and college because “real world skills” have been cultivated.

What are the negatives? How can there be negatives with this approach? There are to some degree. We all learn in different ways. Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences shows specifically that there are multiple ways students learn and grow in the classroom and in general. This approach may lead to some students being exceptional and developing at an impressive rate, but other students may fall behind because the manner they learn best is not being addressed. They may be more interested in the Game Based Learning approach where they can just do something and see outcomes; rather than a focused approach like BBL.

Effective use: To be effective in using the Brain Based Learning approach it is paramount to make sure students are involved and engaged. Disengagement can lead to students missing the point of instruction. Keeping students engaged can be by allowing them to apply new knowledge on a habitual basis. Break the course up into three sections: teach a concept, have students apply the concept to solving a problem, and then review the resolution of the problem and the concept. BBL also requires differentiation. Simply lecturing during all class meetings will not work in Brain Based Learning. Visual aids, class trips, interactions, etc. are necessary to address all aspects of the brain. Familiarizing yourself with child development theories and theorists will also be beneficial.

Problem Based Learning:

Problem Based Learning allows students to learn through addressing problems. Students are taught a concept and asked to resolve a problem or multiple problems using the concepts previously taught. The approach allows students to show their personality, creativity, and interest in the content. This approach is student centric; as the instructor does one thing and steps away to allow the student’s cognitive abilities take control.

Positives? Problem Based Learning can be applied over an entire class meeting or even multiple class meetings. Since problems can be extensive, the solutions may take time to develop. Students may need an entire class period or multiple class sessions to adequately solve the problem presented. The PBL approach gives students an extensive say in their own learning. Students may seek further knowledge beyond the classroom in addressing or solving the problem presented. Students are allowed to showcase their creativity and personality; as Problem Based Learning is open-ended in nature. Problem Based Learning also enhances student problem solving skills. The more these skills are developed the more helpful they will be as students enter adulthood and need to solve more complex problems.

Negatives? There are negatives to this approach. Students enter your classroom with different cognitive abilities and may be at different levels. Using the PBL approach can lead to some students resolving problems quickly and other students struggling to meet expectations. This can be a detriment to instruction if the educator has to disrupt class to keep students on pace with their peers. The open-ended nature of Problem Based Learning can also be a potential negative. Students may struggle simply because they do not understand the context of the assigned problem scenario.

Effective use: Have clearly defined instructions for the Problem Based Learning approach. Students need to have been thoroughly taught the concept they are attempting to apply and need to understand the context of the problem in need of a solution. For example, having students in 3rd grade attempt to address a problem associated with fixing a car would be inappropriate. Having students address a problem that asks them to determine how to purchase a car with no credit and a small amount of savings in a Personal Finance course would be appropriate.

Wow, three approaches to student learning that can all enhance problem solving skills, cognition, creativity, personality, social intelligence, emotional intelligence, and general intelligence in different ways if applied appropriately. Be sure to only use approaches that you are comfortable with and periodically check for their effectiveness. You may be fond of an approach, but if it is not working in your classroom and students are struggling it might be time to pull the plug and try again at a later date.

About Matthew Marino

Matt Marino is a NJ certified business and computer teacher. Marino has ran the web design and media company Franchise Inc. Media and Bambino Enterprises Web Design since October 2003. Matt founded the non-profit Foundation for Academic Advancements in Educational Technology in October 2014. Matt also serves as a Freelance Contributor for Seeking Alpha, and Nasdaq. Since January 2016 Mr. Marino has served as an adjunct professor at Monmouth University.

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