Learning Through Playing: Conceptual Games and Learning Labs - MRCC EdTech

Nov 6 2023

Learning Through Playing: Conceptual Games and Learning Labs

Pranalee Navalkar: Associate Director
Pranalee Navalkar

Associate Director

The initial phase of learning for students has a direct influence on long-term academic development. Students with intrinsic motivation to grow and a strong knowledge of basic concepts can successfully transition to higher education. The new generation of learners—tech-savvy Gen Z and millennials—poses additional challenges to higher education institutions (HEIs) in engaging students. With 91% of school-age children familiar with video games, there is a critical need for digital tools in education. So how can HEIs create learning environments that develop digital and innovation competencies? Through conceptual games and learning labs!

Are Conceptual Games and Learning Labs Useful?

Imparting hands-on experience is essential for universities to get better learning outcomes. The changes in the digital learning landscape have led to the growth of conceptual games that support didactic activities and the learning process. The dynamic learning environment of these educational games promotes experimental learning while reinforcing abstract concepts. Players will get feedback and results immediately, which will bolster their knowledge retention.

In 2021, Americans aged 15 to 19 years played video games for at least 1.44 hours per day. As the modern generation practically grew up with smartphones, conceptual games can become a fun way to learn complex concepts. In higher education, developing games requires multidisciplinary design skills. However, many learning labs have proven their efficiency. Some uses of digital tools are their ability to:

  • Simulate and manipulate effective learning environments.
  • Heighten emotional engagement while learning.
  • Provide relief from the boring routine of studying.
  • Enhance student-teacher relationships.
  • Evaluate, track, and provide feedback immediately.

Understanding Conceptual Games

Conceptual games are distinctly different from educational video games. These games are designed to teach specific concepts or skills in specific subject domains like science, mathematics, engineering, and technology. Learning labs are interactive environments that encourage students to explore, experiment, and utilize tools and materials in the subject domain. The conceptual games and learning labs aim to engage students in collaborative, active, and inquiry-based learning styles to foster creativity, interest, and self-motivation.

Examples of Conceptual Games and Learning Labs

Both conceptual games and learning labs are pedagogical innovations that enhance teaching and learning. These change the way curricula are offered to students with new teaching methods and educational practices. Such digital tools allow a community of faculty, teachers, instructors, subject matter experts, and students to collaborate to create learner-centered solutions. Some of the examples of conceptual games and learning labs successfully used in K-12 and higher education are:

Dragonbox Algebra

This is a conceptual game that teaches the basics of algebra for students aged 5 and up. It uses visual symbols and intuitive rules to help students learn how to solve equations and find solutions. At the end of the game, students exhibited improved algebra skills and attitudes.


This is a conceptual game that simulates a virtual ecosystem where students can investigate the causes and effects of environmental changes. It teaches ecology and scientific inquiry to middle school students. This game enhanced their understanding of complex causal relationships and ecological concepts.

PhET Interactive Simulations

This is a collection of learning labs that provides interactive simulations of various phenomena in physics, chemistry, biology, earth science, and mathematics. These help students learn through exploration and discovery. Students showed improved conceptual understanding and engagement.

Fab Lab

This is a learning lab that enables access to digital fabrication tools like 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC machines, and electronics. It helps students learn about design, engineering, and innovation. Such a learning environment improved the creativity, problem-solving, and collaboration skills of the students.

Future of Conceptual Games and Learning Labs

Video games have always been considered the culprit that causes decreased interest in learning. Changing the mindset of teachers and parents to utilize games and simulation environments as tools for learning is a major hurdle. However, with the latest research and advancements, conceptual games and learning labs can become the ultimate learning tools. Some of the future trends and challenges in this field are:

  • Use of AI to personalize and adapt learning experience for each student based on their preferences, goals, abilities, and progress
  • Supporting individual learning journeys and metacognition through AI-based feedback, guidance, and scaffolding
  • Integration with learning management systems, online courses, open educational resources, and social media to create a holistic learning environment that leverages the strengths of each component
  • Eliminating assessment bias with automated, seamless, and robust assessment tools
  • Developing best practices and guidelines to design, implement, and use conceptual games and learning labs in multiple educational contexts and settings


For the conceptual games and language labs to be used in the mainstream educational landscape, all the stakeholders, like educators, researchers, game developers, policymakers, and learners, have to come together to create an educational framework. By aligning learning objectives, pedagogical approaches, evaluation methods, and gaming mechanics, these digital tools can be used effectively to personalize learning journeys for better learning outcomes. Also, when AI is increasingly used, the focus should be on ensuring ethical and privacy practices to enhance trust and safety.

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