Digital Game-Based Learning: Developing a Pedagogical Model for Primary Mathematics Education

Liping Sun

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


Since they contribute to the learning environment and significantly influence all levels of education, digital games are used as educational tools in various learning activities. However, implementation barriers and other difficulties limit the effective use of such games in the classroom, affecting students’ motivation and learning enhancement. The present study was conducted to address this pedagogical gap through the development of a novel learning environment involving digital games, with the overarching purpose of facilitating primary mathematics education via digital game-based learning.

The specific aim of the study was to develop a pedagogical model that would highlight appropriate ways in which digital game-based learning can be applied. To this end, theoretical and pedagogical approaches that explicate game-based learning were determined, and a theoretical and empirical pedagogical model for digital game-based learning in primary mathematics education was designed. The research focused on the following themes: (a) teacher scaffolding strategies and effects and (b) collaborative digital gameplay for engagement. Various theoretical and methodological perspectives were considered. Design-based research, a case study, and a systematic literature review were used to answer the research questions.

Three datasets were utilized from studies reported in three previous articles. In the first two studies, the participating students used a digital game called Wuzzit Trouble to solve integer arithmetic problems. The first study investigated the various approaches to teacher scaffolding in digital game-based learning classrooms and their influence on students’ perceptions of mathematics learning through the digital game. The second examined the effects of collaborative digital gameplay on three dimensions of student engagement in mathematics. The data collection methods for these two studies included classroom observations, individual interviews, photo-elicitation interviews, and pre- and post-surveys. The third study involved a systematic literature review and analysis of relevant research papers on teacher scaffolding strategies for different stages of game-based learning and their correlative influence on students’ learning.

The main result of the present study was a pedagogical model for digital gamebased learning in mathematics. This represents a culmination of educational theories, previous studies related to game-based learning, and the results of the three studies mentioned above. The model provides a pedagogical foundation for mathematics teachers and educational practitioners to design innovative digital game-based learning environment in the classroom. It captures the phases of orientation, gameplay, and expectation in the digital game-based learning process — that is, teachers adopt various approaches to scaffold students in the orientation and gameplay phases, in turn supporting students’ learning activities and outcomes in the expectation phase. The results of the study lay a theoretical foundation for learning and teaching with digital games in education. They also provide a design process for and meaningful perceptions of digital game-based learning in mathematics and can help identify areas for further empirical research and development in primary education. Future research directions and design principles are suggested in this paper.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Education
Awarding Institution
  • Ruokamo, Heli, Supervisor
  • Siklander, Signe, Supervisor, External person
Award date1 Mar 2024
Place of PublicationRovaniemi
Electronic ISBNs978-952-337-413-3
Publication statusPublished - 2024
MoEC publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


  • digital game-based learning
  • learning
  • game-based learning
  • digital games
  • pedagogical model
  • learning environment
  • mathematics
  • educational methods
  • elementary education
  • computer-assisted teaching

Field of science

  • Media education
  • Teacher Education
  • General education


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