Skip to content

Z-Serious Games Are Serious Learning Tools

Taking Serious Games Seriously in Education [Research] by Dr. Kristen DiCerbo offers the unique perspective of how the industry leader, Pearson, designs and builds games as learning tools. As she shares her experience in research and game innovation, DiCerbo also demonstrates how well-designed games can address multiple curriculum needs, enable pain free assessments, and offer immediate feedback for students. Such games can enhance not only the learning experience for the students, but the teachers as well.


Her scientific stance to games offers hope in comparison to Blake Montgomery’s article, Is the Education Industry Falling Into the Same Trap It Did 20 Years Ago? He talks about the previous collapse of the edutainment industry due to poorly designed games and to the misuse of the word “educational”.  Conversely, DiCerbo’s explanation of design decisions and careful use of language around today’s serious games exemplifies what all learning games should strive to become.


DiCerbo (2015) highlights new benefits of serious games in her words, “As learning scientists have engaged with them, games have become stronger learning tools because of:

    1. Tighter ties to research-based learning progressions,
    2. Better links to elements of professionalization, and
    3. Better design for assessment,” (2015).

These principles lay the foundation for exemplar games such as Mars Generations One: Argubot Academy EDU.


Mars Generation One was a collaborative effort by GlassLab, the Educational Testing Service, and Pearson. This futuristic game teaches middle schoolers skills in reasoning, persuasion, and decision making. In order for the students to influence the construction of a new civilization, they must arm their robots, also called argubots, with arguments for battle. The best argument wins. As students build their arguments, learning progressions, introductions to professionalization, and assessments are being seamlessly built upon and tracked.

Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 6.31.07 PM.png


A key feature of Mars Generation One is that it relied upon research to set the predefined learning progression. This means the game assesses what level each student is at and how s/he is improving. DiCerbo provides the example that students begin their learning journey with a single reason in their argubot, next progress to multiple arguments in an argubot, then continue to multiple arguments with supporting evidence, and so on as they learn to more effectively argue their points.


Another clever feature of Mars Generation One is that there is a component of role play and/or identity. The games touches on the professions of astronauts, politicians, lawyers, engineers, and writers. These early beginnings of identity formation are similar to identities taken on in commercial games such as a wizard, but have a more applicable stance in the real world (DiCerbo, 2015).


The coolest aspect of Mars Generation One is the use of invisible assessment. Rather than employing the old method of quiz making, taking, and grading, students are assessed as they play the game. Teachers and students have immediate feedback on progress as well as how a student solves problems. This is a huge benefit since old testing methods are time consuming and do not show the student’s thought process.


DiCerbo’s article illuminates game making as a science. I have learned it is critical to implement high standards of learning progressions, professionalization cues, and invisible assessments for both a positive and credible learning experience for all involved. May all educational games and their marketing efforts strive to keep serious games seriously credible.



DiCerbo, K. (2015). Taking Serious Games Seriously in Education. Retrieved February 14, 2016 from

Montgomery, B. (2016). Is the Educational Games Industry Falling Into the Same Trap It Did 20 Years Ago? (EdSurge News). Retrieved February 14, 2016, from