Overview of games and simulation in higher education

By Regina Wheeler

Computer technologies have evolved, even to the point where they’re already being introduced into schools – including higher education. With such schools now having more access to the Internet than ever before, there’s also simulation software and serious games seeping into higher education, thus having the potential to enhance learning for students of any knowledge area.

Though, there is still a need for a clear understanding of how games and simulations can help enrich education, and whether it’s a “saving grace” for learning in general. In other words, will gaming replace traditional learning, or be nothing more than an extra tool for it?

Simply put, to find the right balance between simply playing a game and learning something, one must dive deeper into the subject at hand. That’s where educational games come in. Educational games define the right balance between learning and entertainment, for the sake of knowledge.

This overview will cover:

  • The genres
  • The rise of simulations
  • What games will actually bring to education, AND
  • The difference between serious gaming and challenging gaming

Gaming genres considered

While there’s no set definition for the different genres of gaming. So, when discussing the different forms of games and simulation in higher education, there’s always terminological ambiguity to try and explain this phenomenon.

In the meantime, there are various categories when it comes to games:

  • Action (response-based) games
  • Adventure (level-based) games
  • Educational games
  • Fighting (competitive) games
  • Micro-learning games
  • Next-generation games
  • Role-playing games
  • Simulations
  • Sports games (another form of competitive gaming)
  • Strategy (goal-based) games
  • Web-based games

Emphasis on simulations

Simulations refers to creating a scenario, where the player (or, in this case, the student) interacts with the virtual environment to solve problems, apply the things that they’ve learned, and reach certain goals – no matter the area of knowledge. This form of gaming serves as training for the student to acquire important skills, such as:

  • Leadership
  • Teamwork
  • Interpersonal communication
  • Prioritizing of tasks
  • Decision-making, AND
  • Managing stress

Any positive effect?

At this time, it’s still unknown how positive bringing video games into higher education can be. While Spiel Times suggests that gaming in education can help improve social and psychological well-being, there is still skepticism on how actually effective gaming is for education 100%. Though, despite the skeptics, gaming is still revered as an activity that promotes “soft skills,” such as:

  • Communication
  • Team collaboration, AND
  • Leadership

In hindsight, students would be more apt to play an educational game than learn from a traditional learning method. According to KQED, a 2013 study found that when it came to computer simulations, students had improved by 25%.

Serious gaming versus challenging gaming

Two types of gaming come to play in this discussion: serious gaming and challenging gaming. Let’s dive into both types:

  • Serious gaming has proven to train for cognitive skills. According to the Journal of the Society of for Simulation in Healthcare, serious gaming, as a convenient and scalable learning method, allow students to practice their skills in safe environments while providing them with interactivity and competition in a favorable format. Medical students, for example, may take up serious gaming to not only transform their learning, but also produce positive learning outcomes in overall performance, thus promoting problem-solving and effective strategies, when it comes time to apply their skills in the real world (i.e. clinical, nursing, hospitalization, etc.).
  • Challenging games, on the other hand, focus on helping improve
    • Understanding
    • Memory, AND
    • Conceptual application

That’s where micro-learning comes in (mentioned earlier in this article). Micro-learning requires only a few minutes of learning to get SOME learning done. This is especially the norm for Generation Z individuals, because according to Surge9, today’s workforce can’t fully learn every 30-minute e-learning course. With knowledge on-demand and needed right away, it’s possible that micro-learning can take the place of even 30-minute e-learning sessions.


As you can see, virtual learning in higher education is growing more and more relevant in the current schooling environment than traditional face-to-face learning Even when there’s still a healthy amount of skepticism about the topic, there’s still research pointing to effective gaming (i.e. serious games and challenging games) that can change the course of students’ academic journeys. Even without strong evidence pointing to the actual effectiveness of games and simulations, one thing is certain: gaming in higher education isn’t going away anytime soon.

(Regina Wheeler is an e-Learning consultant at Write my dissertation. As a blogger, she specializes in school-based technologies, computers, and gaming).

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