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The use of on-line games in non-formal education of young people


During the last decade, the evolution of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) has triggered changes in every aspect of human life. Our society has thus become even more technology driven and directly dependent on computers and mobile technologies. In such a society, children familiarize themselves with said technologies from a very young age. Through this procedure, children have grown to develop thinking patterns and processes different from previous generations (Prensky, 2001a).To that end, education is also changing as a traditional curriculum is not adequate for modern reality. Through these advancements, the benefits of online video games in formal and non-formal education have started to be utilized and researched. Three core terms in this research are Digital Game-Based Learning, Serious Games and Edutainment.

Digital Game-Based Learning is an approach to non-formal learning that explores new techniques for instructional design utilizing ICTs and video games that will supply young learners with opportunities for skill acquisition. (Pivec, 2007). Serious online games, according to Clark Abt (1970), are games that have a clear educational direction while entertainment is irrelevant. Building on this definition, Zyda (2005)includes professional training, on corporate or government level. Despite any debate on the nature of serious games, it is agreed that serious games consist of learning objectives (Stone, 2008). Finally, edutainment refers to the process of entertaining and educating audiences at the same time (Makarius, 2017), regardless of the medium used. Within edutainment visual material and narrative are of importance. What edutainment tries to achieve is to draw young learner’s attention by utilizing vivid colours and appealing to their emotions, thus insisting on the fun factor of non-formal education. (Buckingham & Scanlon, 2000as mentioned in Okan, 2003).

Even though the terms are distinct, it becomes obvious that they complement each other in a very creative and beneficial way. Game-Based Learning, at its core, is about bringing enjoyment and learning objectives together in an engaging and exciting new medium (Prensky, 2001b). Neither serious games nor edutainment alone can support Game -Base Learning. The amalgamation of both though is exactly what Marc Prensky is describing.

Source: Jumani, Awais & A. Memon, Mashooque & Kartio, Muneer. (2018). A Technique to Measure Students’ Mental Approach using Web and Game-Based E-Learning Application. Annals of Emerging Technologies in Computing. 2. 19-26. 10.33166/AETiC.2018.03.003.

Games and formal & non-formal education

Despite some earlier tries, serious games and edutainment did not get included in schools at a large scale until very recent years as material for supporting formal or non-formal education. One major reason for this is the underlying technologies. Creation of video games, regardless of their educational value, is a complex procedure that depends on various expertise and technologies, with high costs. However, recent advancements have lowered the costs significantly. Commercial game engines have grown in features and simplified the procedures while offering a lot of functionality out of the box for free or at low prices. Some of the basic functionalities game engines handle are graphics, lighting, physics, input, artificial intelligence, animations, underlying hardware and operating systems. All those modules work together due to the structure of the engine and act upon the code that the developer has created for each game, to make objects move, sounds are heard, images get rendered and decisions be made.

Ambient Insight “The 2016-2021 Global Game-based Learning Market”

Source: Newzoo “2017 Global Games Market Report”

The active inclusion of video games in the educational curriculums of all academic levels has indisputable importance (de Aguilera & Mendiz, 2003). They can greatly benefit the students and young people through the facilitation of the learning process. Learning happens faster, memorization is aided through experimental learning and various stimuli (Backhaus & Liff, 2007)and knowledge are composed through the process of the offered information. Furthermore, engagement with such games can assist young learners in acquiring and improving organizational, problem-solving and practical skills (de Aguilera & Mendiz, 2003Gagne, 1995 as mentioned in Makarius, 2017). The versatility games inherently possess, compared to the real-world, assists students in understanding topics they experience difficulties with while at the same time detachment from conventional resources and traditional methods will supply them with a different perspective that will broaden their horizons. Moreover, games are nowadays inexpensive and readily available (Corona, Cozzarelli, Palumbo, & Sibilio, 2013)and motivate students to learn through engagement and enjoyable learning experiences, thus retrieving more knowledge. (Makarius, 2017).

Moreover, a very important aspect is the added benefits for inclusive formal or non-formal education. In virtual worlds, learners (school students or youngsters) with special needs are provided with equal learning opportunities. Through this procedure, their daily life and independence levels are improved, creating new levels of self-esteem and promoting self-advocacy (Drigas & Ioannidou, 2013)(Gersten, Edyburn, Okolo, & Bouck, 2007). Additionally, game environments created for special education is controlled and predictable, thus eliminating sources of distraction and allowing learners to concentrate on the activity at hand. (Greek Pedagogical Institute, 2003). For students with autism, in particular, a number of benefits including limited sensory stimuli, delineated conditions, predictable behaviours and a lack of punishment for incorrect answers suggest that video games are a highly compatible medium for learning (Jordan & Powell, 1990). Students with dyslexia can benefit from the visual and auditory nature of games, similarly, those with dyscalculia have an opportunity to explore number relations and get familiar with numerical operators though games without experiencing anxiety (Makris & Markou, 2015). Through the illustration of these cases, it becomes clear that game-based learning, serious games and edutainment can assist learners regardless of any special conditions, when applied accordingly.

Educational games, as well as commercial games, are being actively used in classrooms (formal education) and other educational structures (non-formal) with various levels of success. Despite the abundance of commercial titles available, only a handful have successfully been integrated into educational processes. One of the most prominent examples is the case of Minecraft. Even though it was designed and developed as a commercial game with no educational design, soon after its release teachers found it useful and experimented with Minecraft in their classrooms. Soon modifications for use in education, tutorials and wiki pages were created and Minecraft became a success in a field that many games have failed. Full lessons, either online or for classrooms, have been developed by a teacher and are being shared. Some subjects that are taught with the assistance of Minecraft are biology, chemistry, ecology, physics, geology and geography (Short, 2012).  Some other examples of commercial games that are used in schools are Age of Empires II, used for history, strategy and resource management, Civilization III for planning and problem solving, Reader Rabbit for reading and spelling and World of Warcraft for collaborative learning (Felicia, 2009).

Mojang © 2019. “Minecraft” is a trademark of Mojang AB

Mojang © 2019. “Minecraft” is a trademark of Mojang AB

On the other hand, games that are specifically designed for use in education have a more specific subject where they can be used. And most of those are created for training within businesses. The most known example might be Americas Army, a first-person shooter used by the American military to train soldiers. Other examples include Food Force, which deals with disaster relief, food logistics and delivery, Virtual Leader, to understand leadership, and the Global Conflict games that teach about conflicts around the world (Felicia, 2009).


Although the idea of using video games for educational purposes is as old as video games, the usage has been lethargic for many years. Usage is growing though, and by large numbers. Some issues that act as obstacles to using games in or outside the classrooms are the time demanding nature of some games, the lack of updated and expensive computer hardware, the price of the games themselves and the lack of teachers familiarization with games (Kirriemuir & McFarlane, 2003). However most of those issues are slowly fading, as hardware is not that relevant any more, teachers are much more familiarized with technology and games and with the current plethora of games it is not that hard to find games and create scenarios that fit in any timeframe.

Edutainment has received much criticism, and not for nought. The insistence on entertainment with a degree of disregard to the fundamentals of education does not produce valuable educational content. The application so far hasn’t been the best, but that doesn’t mean we have to detain the entirety of what edutainment proposes.  On the other end, serious games haven’t achieved to be as attractive as commercial games and have thus been somewhat neglected in the educational process, in favour of games designed for entertainment. Nonetheless, video games are still maturing, and such insights are valuable for creating the fundamentals of the future. Game-based Learning has already been proven as an effective tool for formal and non-formal education with numerous benefits for educators and learners. Thus, we can only expect that the growth of the field will continue, creating increasingly better games and soon changing education to a degree we do not yet imagine.


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Backhaus, K., & Liff, J. P. (2007). Cognitive styles and approaches to studying in management education. Journal of Management Education, 31, 445–466.

Buckingham, D., & Scanlon, D. (2000). That is edutainment: media, pedagogy and the market place. In International Forum of Researchers on Young People and the Media.

Corona, F., Cozzarelli, C., Palumbo, C., & Sibilio, M. (2013). No TitleInformation technology and edutainment: Education and Entertainment in the age of interactivity. International Journal of Digital Literacy and Digital Competence, 4, 12–18.

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Jumani, Awais & A. Memon, Mashooque & Kartio, Muneer. (2018). A Technique to Measure Students’ Mental Approach using Web and Game-Based E-Learning Application. Annals of Emerging Technologies in Computing. 2. 19-26. 10.33166/AETiC.2018.03.003.

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