Monday, April 8, 2013

Computer Gaming and Interactive Simulations for Learning: A Meta-Analysis


The article Computer Gaming and Interactive Simulation for Learning: A Meta-Analysis attempts to uncover whether games and interactive simulation or traditional teaching methods are more effective for learning.  The study goes on to further evaluate in what situations one method may be more effective over another.  The results concluded that games and interactive simulations were more dominant for cognitive gain outcomes.

The study’s premise is contingent on the idea that as software decreases in price becoming more available and incorporated more heavily into education the use of game theory should increase.  This is in response to a theory stating that playing games allow the brain to work more efficiently and takes in more cognitive material than it would in a traditional setting.  Additionally, motivation, a major focus for teachers based on the premise that motivated, interested students will learn more and learn faster will also increase with the use of games.  Game theory, specifically video game theory supports the argument that computer games are highly engaging, motivating, and interactive.

One finding showed males exhibited no preference to either method while females showed a preference for the game and interactive simulation programs.  Additionally, students showed preference for the game and interactive simulation programs.  When teachers were controlling the programs no advantage was found for either method.  When a computer dictated the sequence of the program the study found that the traditional teaching method was favored over games and interactive simulations.  The study also evaluated the subjects’ attitudes toward learning using both methods, this area of the study found that individuals’ attitudes were significantly better than those using traditional learning. 


Overall, this was a effective study.  The authors made note of the limitations within the study as well as the issues they faced when collecting literature.  They found a plethora of articles were not sufficient in that they lacked a control group.  This was the largest methodological flaw found in the collected literature.  Other limitations included a lack of statistical data, a lack of demographic details as well as a lack of a description of the programs and activities used as interventions in sufficient depth to categorize properly.

Gender was an important aspect of the study.  The findings concluded that there were not enough males to effectively measure their preference of games and interactive simulation or traditional methods.  Considering the weight put into this area of the study an adequate number of male participants would strengthen the study.  Therefore, although the authors mentioned this limitation properly, accounting for it in the beginning would prove highly beneficial to the study and its findings.  The authors further suggest the part of the study analyzing learner control stated there is little data to draw meaningful conclusions about learner control options besides interactive simulations or games that required the subject to navigate using their own preferences.  The type of activity portion also yielded subpar findings.   The study incorporated two types of activities using the computers.  The results of the interactive simulation programs had a large fail-safe number while the gaming programs yielded a low fail-safe number giving conflicting results.  The low fail-safe numbers suggest low reliability.  The authors state the research base is insufficient to draw reliable conclusions. 

Lastly, although this article does not specifically mention intelligence, its findings are easily applicable to education in the intelligence field as well as intelligence work.  By applying the findings of this article to intelligence through game theory, higher cognitive gains and better attitudes toward learning will likely take place.  


Bowers, C.A., Cannon-Bowers, J., Muse, K., Vogel, D.S., Vogel, J. J., Wright, M. (2006). Computer gaming and interactive simulations for learning: A meta-analysis. J. Educational Computing Research 34(3) 229-243. Retrieved from 


  1. This was an interesting article, especially the findings that suggested that teacher-control over a game made it less useful than traditional learning methods. I also agree with your criticism that they should have had more males in the study. I am surprised that they did not purposefully try to get more males. That way the study would have had more weight since it could be applicable to both genders rather than just one.

  2. I really like the idea of applying game theory to video games. I agree this paper doesn't specifically tie game theory to intelligence, but I could see how video games could apply to intelligence as well. UVA's are flown with Xbox controllers for a reason!

    I also like how they state their limitations- not enough male participation and the high and low fail-safe numbers. However, just because you state your limitations does not mean they disappear. I think this is a good starting paper, but the method and data need to see improvements before 'intelligence' can really be drawn from it.

    My last comment is regarding the quality of the game based learning. This is a huge limitation because if the game is not enjoyable then this will greatly skew the results. I know I personally would prefer game based learning over traditional learning save for instances where it is a poorly executed game.