Australian Study Points to Benefits of Games-Based Math

Recognition that “games can provide challenging experiences that incorporate effective learning principles and sustained engagement,” led Dr. Kristy Goodwin of Macquarie University to study what she calls Digital Games Based Learning (DGBL) as an emerging pedagogy.

Goodwin reviewed deployment of Mangahigh, a collection of middle grade math games, in 2011 for the New South Wales Department of Education and Communities. She extended her evaluation of game based learning in 54 Australian schools in a study published in November.  Both reports are an evaluation of game-based learning rather than a specific evaluation of Mangahigh.

Key findings of the study using Mangahigh as an example of game-based learning included:

  • Improved student learning outcomes,

  • 100% teachers reported that games had improved student learning,

  • 83% of students reported that the games helped their learning,

  • 94% of students reported that Mangahigh was more enjoyable than traditional modes of mathematics instruction,

  • Teachers reported enhanced student confidence which may lead to greater engagement and motivation, and

  • Instant feedback contributed directly to a more transparent learning process.

Teachers reported that the Mangahigh resources were relevant, accurate, current and engaging. The content of the games, in particular, promoted student engagement, especially with those students who were typically disengaged or reluctant mathematics learners. The report also showed Mangahigh provided essential technical skills and some pedagogical knowledge in how to implement technology in a classroom setting.

For success, Goodwin says, “teachers needed positive dispositions towards gaming.” She recommends leading the conversation with “research and classroom evidence to confirm that DGBL is a valid educational approach.” She recommends upfront and ongoing teacher professional development. The report highlighted the combined benefits of using games and social learning. “The use of Edmodo, or other online or social networking tools has been shown to be a suitable platform for facilitating digital collaboration among teachers and professional development providers.”

Most teachers in the study appreciated the alignment between Mangahigh and the adopted core curriculum–a factor that we’ve also found to be important.  However, like Goodwin, our interviews with teachers using adaptive math products suggest that only about half of the teachers were using data from game-based and adaptive learning systems to shape core instruction and personalize learning.

One subject that Goodwin doesn’t appear to adequately address is implementation fidelity.  We have found that, particularly in regards to game-based supplemental math products, consistent implementation of a coherent instructional program is key to achieving planned objectives. Implementation fidelity is a function of instructional leadership including clear expectations about use patterns, monitoring results, and leading results analysis that result in periodic adjustments.

The report is clear about the leading benefit of game-based learning, it “promoted student engagement, especially with those students who were typically disengaged or reluctant mathematics learners.”

Disclosure: MangaHigh and Edmodo are portfolio companies of Learn Capital portfolio company where Tom is a partner.


Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Discover the latest in learning innovations

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.