Digital game-based learning (DGBL) has become a popular instructional approach in recent years. Some researchers have suggested that scaffolding integrated in games can provide timely support that better facilitates students’ learning process and improves learning outcomes. On the contrary, other researchers have argued that an inappropriate scaffolding mechanism might result in negative impact. Cai and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis to examine the effects of scaffolding in educational digital games on students’ learning achievement and to explore possible factors (moderators) which might contribute to the inconsistency of research findings.
A total of 49 studies and 154 effect sizes used in the meta-analysis fulfilled the inclusion criteria, namely experimental trial with treatment group playing DGBL with scaffolding and control group playing DGBL without scaffolding. Seven types of scaffolding were classified in the study.
- Reflection: learners asked to explain or reflect on their behaviour
- Feedback: Some information given to evaluate students’ performance
- Hints: some clues or suggestions provided to help
- Exposition: some tools used to demonstrate the process or to provide examples
- Collaboration: students playing the game in groups to discuss and co-construct knowledge
- Mixed: two or more types of scaffolding
- Others: scaffolding cannot be classified into any category
The results from the three-level meta-analysis:
- Overall, scaffolding can improve students’ learning outcomes (ES = 0.43)
- Effects of different scaffolding types were not significantly different. Except for collaboration, six out of 7 types of scaffolding showed significant improvement with effect sizes ranging from 0.37 to 0.68. Effect of collaborative type was not significant (ES = 0.14, p=0.39).
- Scaffolding had significant different effects on different grade levels. The largest effect was for elementary school students (ES = 0.72), followed by college students (ES = 0.42), and secondary school students (ES = 0.29).
- Different game types integrating scaffolding mechanisms showed significant different effects on students’ learning outcome. The largest effect size was for adventure games (ES = 1.07, n=2), followed by puzzle games (ES = 0.66, n=16) and simulations (ES = 0.40, n=11). Scaffolding in role-playing games and strategy games did not improve students’ learning outcome (p > .05). (n = no. of studies).
- There was no significant difference among other moderators, such as, game time, learning outcome, and subject domain.
Authors speculated that the reason adventure games, puzzles, and simulation games yielded larger effect with scaffolding may be that those games tend to use more complex tasks which require scaffolding support for learners to achieve better results. To facilitate learning in educational games, authors suggested designers embed an appropriate scaffolding mechanism into the process of game-based learning.
Source: Cai, Z., Mao, P., Wang, D., He, J., Chen, X., & Fan, X. (2022). Effects of scaffolding in digital game-based learning on student’s achievement: A three-level meta-analysis. Educational Psychology Review, 34(2), 537–574. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-021-09655-0