A Framework for Understanding Games and Learning

Hi all, welcome to another edition of the TESOL Games and Learning blog! This month I wanted to highlight Reinhardt and Sykes’ (2012) framework for incorporating games into classroom practice in response to Mary McDonnell who, on my initial blog post, asked for some games and learning research.

Reinhardt and Sykes (2012) have outlined a four-part framework for games in the language classroom that considers best practices for the use of games for second language (L2) learning. It’s a fantastic entry point for understanding the ways educators can view games and their role in the classroom.

The framework applies either a game-enhanced or game-based approach. Game-enhanced focuses on the use of off-the-shelf commercial games (see Minecraft; The Sims). Game-based is the use of video games or virtual environments that are intentionally designed for language learning (see Mentira; Trace Effects). To create the four-part framework, both game-based and game-enhanced approaches are applied to student learning and teacher pedagogy (see Table 1).

Table 1. Reinhardt and Sykes (2012) Framework for Games in Language Learning

Learning Focus Pedagogy Focus
Off-the-shelf commercial games
Commercial games used as self-directed learning environments by students Understanding how commercial games can be used for learning
Educational games and virtual environments
What elements of game design create learning opportunities Learning how to design games for education

Let’s break down each of these in turn and consider some resources that may better help us understand how they function.

Game-Enhanced Approach

Game-Enhanced L2 Learning

This quadrant of the Reinhardt and Sykes’ (2012) framework is the most widely investigated because it is largely a learner-directed phenomenon (Thorne, 2008) occurring outside of the classroom and dictated by student/player interest. The social dynamics of online game environments and their encompassing communities make these games ripe for investigation into language learning and acquisition. Navigating these online games and their communities require an understanding of the matrix language of the game, and motivated learners will learn the dominant language of the game in order to play. Just like previous generations learned English through listening to The Beatles or by watching Friends, learners today acquire English via World of Warcraft and Fortnite.

Game-Enhanced L2 Pedagogy

This aspect of the Reinhardt and Sykes (2012) framework advocates for the use of off-the-shelf commercial games to support traditional classroom practice. The research of Miller and Hegelheimer (2006) exemplifies this approach to games in the classroom. Their study investigated the use of The Sims as a medium for vocabulary acquisition and retention. Ranalli (2008) finds that when combined with supplementary ESL materials, The Sims is a viable learning tool for vocabulary acquisition. A common example of this is the extensive use of Minecraft in education.

Game-Based Approach

Game-Based L2 Learning

Game-Based L2 learning situates games in the classroom as artifacts intentionally designed for language learning. This viewpoint considers how the teacher-researcher can utilize or design games that support the learning of specific L2 objectives. Of the four approaches to games in the classroom, game-based L2 learning has received the least investigation as a result of the need for language educators to be active in the designing of educational games. When educators are involved, the research produced is often action research.

Game-Based L2 Pedagogy

Reinhardt and Sykes (2012) suggest the language teacher-researcher investigate games and their design through game-based L2 pedagogy. By understanding how game designers craft video games to engage players, L2 instructors and researchers can create more effective games for the language classroom. Educational games stuck with the moniker “edutainment” often lack the intentionally designed experiences of commercial video games. As educators understand how commercial games are designed, more effective educational games can be created to target specific learning content. For a primer on how game designers create engaging games, check out the Devs Play YouTube series in which designers play the games they have created to assess the level of engagement the games produce.

In which quadrant of this framework do you find yourself most comfortably situated, and/or where do you envision yourself?

Next month, we’ll unpack these ideas a bit more and explore more resources to help us understand each section of the quadrant. Until then, play more games!


Miller, M., & Hegelheimer, V. (2006).The SIMs meet ESL: Incorporating authentic computer simulation games into the language classroom. International Journal of Interactive Technology and Smart Education, 3(4).

Ranalli, J. (2008). Learning English with The Sims: Exploiting authentic computer simulation games for L2 learning. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 21, 441–455. doi:10.1080/09588220802447859

Reinhardt, J., & Sykes, J. (2012). Conceptualizing digital game-mediated L2 learning and pedagogy: Game-enhanced and game-based research and practice In H. Reinders (Ed.), Digital games in language learning and teaching (pp. 32–49). Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan.

Thorne, S. L. (2008). Transcultural communication in open internet environments and massively multiplayer online games. In S. Magnan (Ed.), Mediating discourse online (pp. 305–327). Amsterdam, the Netherlands: John Benjamins.

About Jeff Kuhn

Jeff Kuhn is the director of esports at Ohio University. He frequently delivers talks and keynote addresses on games and learning, game design, and the need for games literacy in educators. He is one of the founding moderators of the Electronic Village Online’s Minecraft MOOC, a community of practice for teachers learning to use Minecraft in the classroom. He has served on the TESOL CALL-IS steering committee, as the Gaming Special Interest Group chair for CALICO, and in the U.S. Department of State’s English Language Specialist program. His research interests include game-based learning, second language writing, and computer-assisted language learning.
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