Games and Simulations in Online Courses

Conrad and Donaldson (2011) stated “by involving cyber students in activities that utilize games and simulations, real-life skills can be enhanced, and learning can be made fun” (p. 101).

The 2013 NMC Horizon Report for Higher Education predicted that simulations and gamification will enter into the mainstream for higher education institutions within two to three years. Here are some benefits and challenges about game-based learning:

Wordle: Games
Some of the benefits of incorporating games and simulations into online learning environments are that they offer an alternative to handbooks, and it is a fun way to engage students through real-world practices and demonstrations (Carabaneanu, Trandafir, & Mierlus-Mazilu, n.d). Games and simulations support students’ active involvement in the learning environment (Conrad and Donaldson, 2011). Additionally, educational games help in developing the students’ soft skills in terms of creative problem-solving skills, teamwork and critical thinking (Johnson, Becker, Cummins, Estrada, Freeman, & Ludgate, 2013). Shank (2006) Explained that, in online learning, it is not enough to post content online; therefore, educators and instructional designers need to incorporate activities that help students to perform, practice and reflect on results. When designed properly, simulations and games could promote students’ engagement and facilitate learning. Effective simulation or game should help students to make decisions, explore the real world and develop new perspectives all through a safe learning environment (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011).


Games and simulations come with some drawbacks if they are not designed to enhance course content. For example, commercial games could add incomplete and inaccurate information to the learning environment (Van Eck, 2006). Another consideration, is to understand how the game is related to the course objectives not just how the game works (Van Eck, 2006); instructional designers and instructors need to make sure that course activities should be related to the set goals and objectives for the course (Laureate Education Inc., n.d.). Students come to the online learning environment with diverse technological skills (Morgan, 2009); some students may find the game easy to navigate others may find it difficult and require tutorials to help them in understanding the concepts and the navigation choices.

Games and simulations could be used for fully online courses, as part of a blended course or as an online component for face-to-face classes. Are you using games and simulations in your teaching ? Share with us your experience.

The How To E-D-U Your How-To guide for Higher education developed a list of 50 educational games. The games are for different age groups with 6 games for college and higher and 7 games for adult learners. Try them out and let us know what you think of them.


  • Carabaneanu, L., Trandafir, R., & Mierlus-Mazilu, I. (n.d). Trends in eLearning. Retrieved from:
  • Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction (Updated ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Cummins, M., Estrada, V., Freeman, A., and Ludgate, H. (2013). NMC Horizon Report: 2013 Higher Education Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.
  • Shank, P. (2006). Activities aren’t optional. Online Classroom, 4-5.
  • Van Eck, R. (2006). Digital Game-Based Learning: It’s Not Just the Digital Natives Who Are Restless. Retrieved from



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