The Landscape of Digital Learning Games: Finding Paydirt

The Landscape of Digital Learning Games: Finding Paydirt

By Ryan L. Schaaf


This article first appeared at Amplify here. Reposted with permission.

There are a wide variety of digital games available for players on countless platforms. It makes it very challenging to find a game for a specific purpose such as learning. The first step is to understand the purpose of gameplay. Typically, a person engages in gameplay for fun and entertainment. However, in recent years, more and more people are playing games for unconventional purposes. Some gamers want to build mindscapes using digital resources, some want to learn new concepts or cultivate new skills, some use it just to pass some downtime, and some are immersed in game-based storylines and narratives.

Regardless of the purpose of playing them, finding games to meet these various needs is a challenge. The process remains decentralized – there is no one-stop shop or catalog to research. However, self-research is a practical strategy to find a potential game.

Web Browser–Based Games

There are tens of thousands of digital learning games available online at this very second. Educators can perform a simple web search for content-specific games to infuse into their lessons. For instance, imagine a group of science students learning about life cycles. A teacher simply conducts a Google search using a query such as “Interactive life cycle games for kids” to find hundreds of potential games for students to use. Since most schools already have many digital devices, browser-based games are the easiest to adopt into instructional lessons.

RhymeTime_scrn_01 Copy (1)Aqua is a web-based supplemental reading curriculum for grades K-2 currently in development at Amplify and piloting in schools across the country. In Rhyme Time (depicted above) students practice with different rime families and decode words in these families by swapping the first letter sounds of words while the ending sounds remain constant. Learn more about Aqua.

There are also large collections of digital games referred to as game hubs. These sites house many different types of digital games tailored to many different ages as well as content areas. Online learning game hubs can be used in lessons, as resources for technology learning centers, or as support or extra practice at home.


Steam is an enormous online-gaming platform. Steam hosts a massive online catalog of over 5,000 games for PC, Mac, and Linux-based computers, mobile devices, and even smart televisions.

‘Apptastic’ Markets

The eruption of application or ‘app’ markets has created a digital gold mine of potential games for learners. It is hard to fathom that this multi-billion dollar a year market is not even a decade old. The two major app markets are Apple’s App Store and Google Play. The App Store serves users on Apple’s operating system (iOS) devices such as the iPhone and iPad. And, Google Play supplies apps to smartphones and tablets using an Android platform. Both App markets have their very own categories for Educational Games. With thousands of games spread across numerous mobile platforms, the app markets are extraordinary sources to find potential games for tablets and smartphones.

Personal Computer (PC) Games

Although the download-and-play approach to acquiring new digital games is now popular because of tablets, smartphones, and web-connected computers, PC games are still very popular in classrooms. Schools are still hosting desktop computers workstations and common technology labs to cater to the hundreds of students that require digital learning in their curricula.

Game Consoles

Gaming consoles are one of the last platforms teachers would consider using as learning tools for their students to access highly-interactive virtual learning environments. Teachers are repurposing gaming consoles and using them as instructional workstations rather than as entertainment systems. With careful consideration, gaming consoles and devices have a lot of potential for classroom learning applications. Many learners have these same gaming consoles at home, so they already know how to use them.

Resources to Find Good Learning Games

Common Sense Media is the nation’s leading nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in the 21st century. They review numerous games for use by both educators and parents.

Games 4 Change has accumulated numerous databases of potential learning games for players, educators, and parents to consider.

Playful Learning is a project of the Learning Games Network, an award-winning non-profit producer of games for learning.

The InfoSavvy21 team collaborated to create the Digital Learning Game Database (DLGD). It was conceptualized to archive and curate digital games with learning potential and provide it to educators for use with their students.


At Amplify, we are committed to the educational potential of learning through digital gameplay. Aqua is a new kind of reading curriculum in development by the Center for Early Reading at Amplify. It is a reading adventure that gives students practice in phonological awareness, decoding, vocabulary, and reading comprehension through games. Learn more.

December 2017

Committed Sardine