Games for engaged learning of middle school children with special learning needs


  • Fengfeng Ke is an assistant professor of Educational Psychology and Learning Systems in the College of Education at the Florida State University. Her main research interests are digital-game-based learning, computer-supported collaborative learning and inclusive e-learning design. Tatiana Abras is a doctoral student of Organizational Learning and Instructional Technology at the University of New Mexico. Her current research interest is the technology integration for health and medical education.

Dr Fengfeng Ke, Educational Psychology and Learning Systems, 3205-C Stone Building, The Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306-4453, USA. Email:



In this paper, we describe an in situ study that examined the diverse design features and effects of three pre-algebra games for middle school children who have either challenges with learning or different language backgrounds. Data were collected through in-field observation, artifact analysis, school performance report and knowledge test during 15 one-hour gaming sessions over a period of 3 weeks. A list of key design features related to creating engagement and learning for students with special learning needs emerged from the data. The findings and discussions will inform educational designers and practitioners on successful educational game design and implementation for learners with diverse characteristics and needs.

Practitioner notes

What is already known about this topic

  • • Computer games can act as rich primers for engaged learning of academic content.

What this paper adds

  • • The potential for computer games to promote engaged learning for school children with learning difficulty or different language/cultural backgrounds.
  • • The common and unique game design features that promote engaged learning for school children with special learning needs.
  • • Game-based learner support for school children with special learning needs.

Implications for practice and/or policy

  • • Educational game designers should make purposeful design efforts (eg, a simple fantasy, open-ended game challenges and scaffolding with visual cue/feedback) to create learner-adaptive engagement.
  • • Content processing should be a core and active part of the game-play to promote game-based learning.
  • • Adaptive and nonintrusive support should be provided to student players to reinforce game-based learning.