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Applying Game-Based Learning During COVID-19 Digital Response

By Guest Writer on January 28, 2021

gaem based learning

Game-based learning using serious computer games has a huge potential to overcome challenges faced by teachers and trainers in low-income countries. Not only does it provide a great means for distance learning, it helps people to efficiently develop awareness, gain knowledge and skills, and realise behaviour change.

In the current pandemic-caused educational crisis we see an increased request for ICT-based, remote training and teaching methods, and transformations of classroom training into online training. Digital serious games can make a real difference for COVID-19 digital response, both in terms of efficiency and effectiveness.

Software games support self-paced learning and provide a range of player data, giving valuable insight in learner progress and learning outcomes. They add experience to the theory, let people engage, and stimulate the acquisition of 21st century skills, which makes them powerful tools for learning.

Farming Forward Game-based Learning

We have been working on the concept of game-based learning since 2013, based on a strong belief in the power of play and the importance of agricultural entrepreneurship to improve the position of rural populations in low income countries.

This has resulted in a digital training game named Farming Forward, which we have used in several African countries, among which Burkina Faso, Kenya, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, to train teachers and trainers, as well as youth and farmers, in the area of business and entrepreneurship. The game – usually played on PC or tablet – provides a simulation of the reality of a smallholder farmer.

While playing the game and progressing through the seasons, players encounter increasingly complex challenges like deciding who to sell their yield to, making financial investments in irrigation systems and whether or not to take a loan to overcome a shortage of cash. Players also need to manage extreme weather, pests or a difficult neighbor.

By playing the game and engaging in (offline) exercises and other group interaction, participants understand why these topics are important, acquire the required knowledge and skills, and know how to proceed after the training.

As confirmed by academic research, well-designed training games are realistic and immersive environments where players can learn through role play experiences. They use internal analytics to collect data on the players, adapt challenges to maintain flow, and provide timely feedback. These are also the main aspects of Farming Forward, in which players take the role of a farmer entrepreneur, are motivated to participate in increasingly complex challenges and see the direct results of their actions.

Game-based Learning Challenges

Since 2017, we have been able to test the game-based learning concept and improve both on the didactic side and the technology side.

On the didactic side especially, we have learnt to find the balance between undirected exploration by participants of the game world and teacher/trainer-led exercises and group work. We have seen that the more participants explore the digital world in their own way, the more they are able to translate the safe, risk-free game world to the complexity of the outside world.

They integrate topics that are not a part of the training contents and think of scenarios that they had not imagined before. On the other hand, we have seen the value of a teacher/trainer who truly understands the participants’ context and can facilitate group discussions to nuance or deepen topics.

With continued technology constraints across the African continent, we realized early on that any game should be playable offline and work on devices with limited hardware resources. More recently we have focused on improving the scalability in terms of number of players and functionality, setting up a robust licensing system, and preparing for fully remote delivery of teacher/trainer training.

Game-based Learning Impacts

The game-based learning method is very well received by participants. Feedback from a recent training of agronomy teachers in Kenya confirmed that it helped participants:

  • Connect theory and practice, as the theory comes alive through the digital world of the training game.
  • Better understand complex topics like financial management and input-output relations.

The training also spiked an interest in the game-based learning approach and the teachers feel that this approach will help in covering subjects a lot faster with their trainees.

Our player data also provide valuable insights in learning outcomes. In general, we see that participants improve their decision-making while they progress in the game, by restarting seasons and trying other scenarios and choices. They stop taking short-cuts, make use of the tools that are available, and improve their performance as they move through the game seasons.

Although this illustrates the positive effects of game-based learning, there would be great value in being able to see how in-game behaviour translates to real-life behaviour in the long term. While measuring long-term impact is still on our wish-list, early next year a research institute will gather quantitative data to evaluate the effects of our game-based training.

All in all, we recognise that the concept is very powerful and can work for any topic that requires behaviour change. In collaboration with education partners, we are now developing different versions to include a wider range of topics and audiences. These include water-efficiency in agriculture for smallholder farmers, farmer cooperatives and extension workers, and retail management for entrepreneurship students.

By Roef van Dijk. Roef is co-founder of Kucheza, a social enterprise based in the Netherlands that develops digital training games and tools to improve entrepreneurship.


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One Comment to “Applying Game-Based Learning During COVID-19 Digital Response”

  1. Obioma jerry says:

    Game based learning is very helpful in ICT
    It helps students learn fast because students learn faster what they see
    Also because the students do their learning without compulsion by teacher