DIGITAL LEARNING GAMES IN FINANCIAL LITERACY EDUCATION 1
To appear in
T.A. Lucey & K.S. Cooter (Eds.), Financial Literacy for Children and Youth
(2nd ed.). Frankfurt/M.
Instructional Integration of Digital Learning Games in Financial Literacy Education
Carmela Aprea, Julia Schultheis, Kathleen Stolle
Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Germany
DIGITAL LEARNING GAMES IN FINANCIAL LITERACY EDUCATION 2
Financial literacy is commonly acknowledged as a key 21st century skill, and there is a wide
range of political, practical and scientific activities intended to foster this skill within the
populations. However, despite these efforts, recent meta-analyses indicate, that traditional
financial literacy programs often do not reach the goals they aim. This result might be attributed
to the fact that these programs are usually knowledge-centered, whereas financial decision
making and behavior are mostly omitted. An additional problem is that they often do not
sufficiently consider students motivation and socio-emotional needs. In this chapter, we argue
that game-based learning can offer one possibility to overcome these obstacles, and thus to make
financial literacy programs more effective and appealing. More specifically, we will sketch the
potential benefits of learning with digital games and then briefly outline the available empirical
research regarding the effects and conditions of game-based learning. We will also describe an
effort to develop, implement and evaluate a set of game-based learning arrangements in a
secondary school financial literacy program in Switzerland. This experience supported the claim
that a well-designed and instructionally integrated digital learning game could foster learning,
motivation and transfer in the context of financial education. It also showed that game-based
learning in financial literacy education requires enough time as well as appropriate measures of
teacher preparation. In addition, a collaborative way of developing game-based learning
arrangements seems to be an essential key factor.
DIGITAL LEARNING GAMES IN FINANCIAL LITERACY EDUCATION 3
INSTRUCTIONAL INTEGRATION OF DIGITAL LEARNING GAMES
IN FINANCIAL LITERACY EDUCATION
Carmela Aprea, Julia Schultheis, Kathleen Stolle
Due to recent trends in society and economy (e.g., shrinking public support systems,
shifting demographic profiles, changes in financial markets), financial literacy can be considered
as a key skill in the 21st century, especially for underprivileged target groups (e.g., Aprea,
Wuttke & Stock, 2015). Under these conditions, financial literacy represents a complex issue
requiring interpretations of scholars from various disciplines including (but not limited to)
finance, psychology, sociology, philosophy, and education. In addition, financial literacy
education is expected to fulfill a wide range of expectations, e.g., fostering individual and
collective economic well-being as well as providing possibilities for participation (cf. Lucey &
Laney, 2012). These challenges cannot be adequately addressed only by family socialization but
require institutionalized learning processes. The financial education community has begun to
recognize the depth and difficulty of its mission. On the political level, many countries have
developed national strategies, and/or have submitted surveys and tests to measure financial
literacy of their populations, especially the young (e.g., OECD, 2014). On the practical level,
financial literacy education programs have been implemented. Moreover, research efforts have
been fostered in this field (for a comprehensive overview of the activities at the different levels
see Aprea et al., 2016).
However, despite these efforts, recent empirical evidence by meta-analyses (e.g.,
Fernandes et al., 2014; Miller et al., 2014) indicates that traditional financial literacy education
programs very often do not reach the goals they aim at (i.e., deepen understanding of financial
DIGITAL LEARNING GAMES IN FINANCIAL LITERACY EDUCATION 4
issues, enhance reasonable financial behavior, support participation) and are thus not as effective
as they should and probably could be. This finding might be attributed to the fact that these
programs are usually knowledge-centered, whereas financial decision making and behavior are
mostly omitted. An additional problem is that they often do not sufficiently consider students’
motivation and socio-emotional needs as well as their social practices. These needs and practices
have changed drastically for the generation of the so called digital natives and their propensity
towards virtuality, immediate pay-off, fantasy, play and technology (e.g., Lonka, 2012; Prensky,
2001; Wagner, 2008).
In this chapter, we argue that game-based learning can offer one possibility to overcome
these obstacles, and thus to make financial literacy programs more appealing and effective. More
specifically, our aim is to demonstrate how digital learning games (also known as educational or
serious games) could be embedded into classroom instruction in order to support learning,
motivation and transfer in the context of financial literacy education. For the purpose of this
chapter, we define ‘digital learning games’ in accordance with Wouters et al. (2013) as
being interactive, based on a set of agreed rules and constraints, and directed toward
a clear goal that is often set by a challenge. In addition, games constantly provide
feedback, either as a score or as changes in the game world, to enable players to
monitor their progress toward the goal. (p. 250; emphasis in the original)
As these authors further contend, computer games may also involve a competitive activity
(against the computer, another player, or oneself). In addition, a narrative or the development of
a story can be very important in a computer game (e.g., in adventure games), but both of these
characteristics are not indispensable for being a computer game (e.g., action games do not
necessarily require a narrative). The supplement ‘serious’ indicates that the primary purpose of
the computer game is not to entertain the player, which would be an added value, but to use the
DIGITAL LEARNING GAMES IN FINANCIAL LITERACY EDUCATION 5
entertaining quality for training, education, or other mental and/or behavioral change objectives
The structure of the chapter is as follows: First we will sketch the potential benefits of
learning with digital games and then briefly outline the available empirical research regarding
the effects and conditions of game-based learning. Next we will describe an effort to develop,
implement and evaluate a set of game-based learning arrangements in a secondary school
financial literacy program in Switzerland. On this basis, we will provide preliminary
instructional guidelines, summarize the main issues of the chapter and make suggestions for
future research and development activities.
Potential benefits of learning with digital games
Over the last 40 years, digital games – also known as computer or video games – have
increasingly replaced more traditional games as leisure activities and have had a transformational
impact on how people spend their leisure time (e.g., Conolly et al., 2012). This seems to be
especially true for the young: For example in the United States, more than 90% of children
between the ages of 2 and 17 play video games (cf. NPD Group, 2011). In addition, video games
brought in over $25 billion in 2010, more than doubling Hollywood’s 2010 box office sales of
$10.8 billion in the United States and Canada (cf. Motion Picture Association of America, 2011).
However, despite the enormous popularity of digital games, much of the earlier public and
scientific discussion has been primarily focused on their possible detrimental effects such as
aggression, isolation, addiction and depression (e.g., Gentile & Gentile, 2008; Schmierbach,
2010), and it is only more recently that popular media (e.g., Hagel & Brown, 2009; Johnson,
2006) as well as academic educational research (e.g., Gee, 2003; Squire, 2006, Prensky, 2001)
DIGITAL LEARNING GAMES IN FINANCIAL LITERACY EDUCATION 6
are concentrating their attention on the potential benefits that digital games may have for human
development and learning. As Granic, Lobel and Engels (2014, p. 66) state, “[c]onsidering these
potential benefits is important, in part, because the nature of these games has changed
dramatically in the last decade, becoming increasingly complex, diverse, realistic and social in
nature.” The potential benefits of digital games become particularly evident from the perspective
of contemporary learning theories, notably constructivist, situated and experiential approaches
(e.g., Collins, Brown & Newman, 1989; Greeno, 1998; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Moon, 2004).
These theories, in turn, are inspired by tenets from pragmatism (e.g., Dewey, 1963), sociocultural
and cultural-historical psychology (e.g., Vygotski, 1978) as well as fundamental findings in
cognitive and motivational psychology (e.g., Malone & Lepper, 1987; Suchman, 1987). In
particular, they view learning as an active, contextually bounded and socially mediated process
of making meaning out of individual experiences. This process aims at the formation of a
multidimensional and, first and foremost, transferable set of competencies. Teaching, in turn, is
conceived as the provision of adequate learning opportunities, i.e., the design of learning
arrangements which stimulate students’ active participation and guide their experiences. Within
the frame of contemporary approaches, the following (non-exhaustive) advantages of digital
learning games could be emphasized:
(1) Digital games may support domain-related knowledge construction and higher order
cognitive skills. In digital games, learning is at its essence a kind of performance, as students
learn by doing within the affordances and constraints of information-rich virtual worlds,
instantiated through software and social systems. The primacy of game-based learning is on
experience, constantly inviting the learner to understand and manipulate complex situations,
learn through failure and related feedback, and develop identities as expert problem solvers
DIGITAL LEARNING GAMES IN FINANCIAL LITERACY EDUCATION 7
(Squire, 2008). Thus, game-based learning provides what Barab et al. (2010: 525) call
“consequential engagement”, and is particularly expected to foster the acquisition of different
forms of domain-related higher order knowledge and skills, such as conceptual
understanding, strategic decision making and/or problem solving.
(2) Digital games can promote enjoyment, intrinsic motivation and positive attitudes. Due to
their entertaining qualities, digital games are believed to be personally enjoyable and thus
much more attractive for learners, especially the ones from the digital native generation. This
may lead to more affective involvement as well as to sustained intrinsic motivation. As
already proposed by Malone (1981) and confirmed by more recent developments in
motivational research (for an overview see Elliot & Dweck, 2005), the primary factors that
make an activity intrinsically motivating are challenge, curiosity, control and fantasy. Digital
games incorporate these factors, for example through the need to attain goals, through
sensory and cognitive activation or with the help of narratives. In addition, their immersive
nature may also enable the experience of flow (e.g., Csíkszentmihályi, 2008). In sum, these
characteristics may positively influence attitudes towards learning both, in general and in
(3) Digital games may foster generic abilities as well as psycho-motoric skills. As for example
Granic et al. (2014) assume, digital games may also foster more generic, often meta-
cognitive abilities such as handling of complexity, or information processing under the
condition of risk and uncertainty as well as persistence, ambiguity tolerance and self-
efficacy. Depending on the specific game condition, they are moreover expected to support
psycho-motoric skills such as speed of reaction or eye-hand-coordination.
DIGITAL LEARNING GAMES IN FINANCIAL LITERACY EDUCATION 8
However, as especially researchers from media psychology and instructional design (e.g.,
Kerres et al., 2009; Myers & Reigeluth, 2016; Petko, 2008) point out, it is quite improbable that
these beneficial effects of digital games come naturally. It is rather expected that, in order to
develop its full potential, game-based learning requires two key prerequisites, notably high
quality game design and adequate instructional integration, i.e. learning arrangement design.
With regard to the first key prerequisite, scholars in the field of game design (e.g., Adams, 2014,
Bopp, 2005; Dondlinger, 2007; Mayer, 2011) highlight that a good game design should guide the
learner through the game world and help him or her to understand its logic and rules. This should
be preferably done as easy and immersive as possible, for example by designing game situations
which afford learners to actively manipulate objects in an intended way, or by sequencing the
game play according to increasing levels of difficulty. With regard to the second prerequisite,
instructional integration, it is particularly emphasized that simply playing a game might not be
enough for effective and sustainable learning to occur, but that these gaming experiences need to
be complemented with adequate preparation, elaboration, practice, debriefing/reflection and
transfer of what has been learned during the game play (e.g., Leemkuil & de Jong, 2011; Paras &
Bizzocchi, 2005). As we will elaborate in the second following section, a powerful instructional
remedy for guiding these processes is the design of learning tasks, mainly because of their
impact on regulating students learning processes. In addition to highlighting the importance of
these design issues, scholars in the field of game-based learning also underscore the need for
empirically investigating the effects and conditions of using games for educational purposes.
This aspect will be addressed next.
DIGITAL LEARNING GAMES IN FINANCIAL LITERACY EDUCATION 9
Game-based learning: Summary of the available empirical research
In the last decade, a steadily growing number of individual research studies concerning
the effects and conditions of game-based learning have begun to emerge. In addition to the
individual studies, around a dozen literature reviews (e.g., Boyle et al., 2015; Conolly et al.,
2013; Donovan, 2012; Granic et al., 2014; Hamari et al., 2014) both, narrative and systematic, as
well as a handful of meta-analyses (e.g., Clark et al., 2016; Sitzman, 2011; Vogel et al., 2006;
Wouters et al., 2013) exist, which are of particular interest for our concern. Even though far from
being conclusive – and, most importantly, at least to our knowledge completely omitting the
domain of financial literacy education – the existing research offers important indications with
regard to the questions of whether and under which circumstances digital games could be
effectively used to support human learning and development. Three types of results should be
(1) In terms of cognitive learning outcomes, the available empirical evidence basically seems to
confirm the expected beneficial effects of digital learning games. This is corroborated by all
quantitative meta-analyses, including the most recent one by Clark et al. (2016), with 69
studies from 2000-2012, spanning K-16 students, the one by Vogel et al. (2006) with 32
studies from 1986 to 2003 covering all age groups as well as the one by Wouters et al. (2013)
with 39 studies from 1990 to 2012, also encompassing a wide range of age groups. All of
these meta-analyses covered various types of games (e.g., adventure games, online quizzes,
simulation games) and content areas (e.g., science, math, and psychology). As Ke (2009)
states in her qualitative meta-analysis, the expected benefits seem to be particularly salient
with regard to higher order thinking skills such as planning or reasoning. These results were
also confirmed in an additional meta-analysis by Sitzman (2011) who specifically addressed
DIGITAL LEARNING GAMES IN FINANCIAL LITERACY EDUCATION 10
simulation games for adult workforce trainees, synthesizing results from 65 studies from
1976 to 2009. This author moreover could demonstrate positive effects of serious games on
self-efficacy, i.e., a more generative ability.
(2) However, differently than expected, the available empirical research is rather inconsistent
concerning motivational and attitudinal effects. In this respect, Vogel et al. (2006) reported
positive effects of serious games whereas such effects could not be found in the meta-
analysis by Wouters et al. (2013), who offer three plausible reasons for this lack of evidence.
The first reason pertains to the methods that are commonly used for the measurement of
motivation. In this regard, it can be questioned whether it makes sense to measure affective
states such as motivation and enjoyment with questionnaires and surveys after game play,
when the player’s motivation may be attenuated. In contrast, measures which can be
collected during game play (e.g., observation, eye tracking and skin conductance) might be
more valid but are yet very rarely used. This suggestion is corroborated by one exceptional
study by Annetta et al., 2009 that employed the rating of observed engagement during game
play as motivation measurement, and found that the game was more motivating than the
instructional treatment of the comparison group who received practice and group discussion.
As a second reason, the case might be that serious games are not more motivating because in
instructional contexts learners do experience them as obligatory as other instructional
methods. This might limit their sense of autonomy and control which, in turn, are important
conditions for motivation (e.g., Ryan et al., 2006). Lastly, it is also possible that the lack of
motivational appeal is – at least partly - a reflection of poor game design and poor
instructional integration. This interpretation is supported by the moderator analyses from the
research syntheses, which are addressed next.
DIGITAL LEARNING GAMES IN FINANCIAL LITERACY EDUCATION 11
(3) In particular, the moderator analyses demonstrate that games with an active involvement of
the player and high control (Vogel et al., 2006; Wouters et al., 2013) as well as games with
unlimited access (Sitzmann, 2011) do not only lead to significantly better learning outcomes
relative to the comparison group but are also perceived as more motivating. With regard to
instructional integration, the moderator analyses also reveal that games were more effective
and motivating when supplemented with other instruction, when multiple training sessions
were involved, and when players worked together in groups (Vogel et al., 2006; Wouters et
al., 2013). In contrast to these game and instructional design characteristics, no significant
differences were reported in terms of learner characteristics (e.g., age group or gender). As
Vogel et al. (2006) notice,
[t]his finding is somewhat counterintuitive since it is a common assumption that
children, due to shorter attention-spans, higher interest in play activities, and lower
intrinsic motivation to learn, enjoy and thus learn better using computer games and
interactive simulations compared to adults. (p. 237)
However, this rather surprising finding might, in our view, indicate a generalizable positive
effect of digital learning games – even though this interpretation must be treated with
caution because many important research questions, and especially those regarding learner-
related prerequisite (e.g., prior knowledge) of effective game use, have not yet been
considered. Taken together, the results of the current empirical studies thus seem to stress
the affordances of games for learning as well as the key role of design beyond medium.
Development, implementation and evaluation of game-based learning arrangements in a
secondary school financial literacy program in Switzerland
In this section we will illustrate how the previously depicted theoretical considerations
and empirical findings were used to design, implement and evaluate a set of game-based learning
DIGITAL LEARNING GAMES IN FINANCIAL LITERACY EDUCATION 12
arrangements in a secondary school financial literacy program in Switzerland. To this end, we
will (1) briefly delineate the background of the program, (2) describe the process of development
of the game-based learning arrangements, and (3) report on an effort to implement and
formatively evaluate them within the scope of a field testing.
Background of the program. The activities described in this section are part of a larger
development project which has been initiated as a joint venture of two Swiss Teacher
Associations (LCH Dachverband Lehrer und Lehrerinnen Schweiz and SER Syndicat des
Enseignants Romands) and the Association of Swiss Cantonal Banks (VSKB Verband
Schweizerischer Kantonalbanken)1 as response to a recent reform in Swiss basic education
curricula, the so called Lehrplan 21 initiative. This reform involved a shift from knowledge-
oriented to competence-oriented curricula, and besides other issues also encompassed for the
first time the inclusion of competencies related to financial literacy, especially in the grades 7 to
9. Given that this subject was completely new for this age group, and teachers in this kind of
school usually have no formal training in finance or economics, there was an urgent need for a
sound instructional approach, including instructional resources fitting to the new curriculum
requirements. In order to cope with these requirements and encouraged by the above described
theoretical considerations and empirical findings, the decision was made in favor of combining
game and non-game instruction within an integrative approach. This approach included the
development of a digital learning game and its instructional integration within game-related
learning modules. Together, these instructional incidents (i.e., learning game and learning
modules) form what we subsequently call ‘game-based learning arrangements’.
1 It is important to note that in May 2016, the above mentioned associations have funded the umbrella
organization “FinanceMission Association” which serves as contact platform for schools and teachers interested in
using the various instructional resources presented in this part of the chapter. For further information see also
DIGITAL LEARNING GAMES IN FINANCIAL LITERACY EDUCATION 13
Development of the game-based learning arrangements. Due to the innovative character
of including financial education in the Swiss secondary school context, the project activities have
been inspired by a design-based research approach (e.g., DBRC, 2003), and encompassed the
close collaboration of a team of interdisciplinary experts (notably researchers from media
psychology, business and economics education, economics, behavioral and household finance,
and business ethics), game designers, media designers and secondary school teachers. In
addition, students, parents and other relevant stakeholders were involved, and an accompanying
steering committee was constituted. In accordance with the design-based research approach,
different but interrelated cycles of analysis, design, testing and re-design were carried out. More
specifically, the following steps were conducted:
(1) Needs analysis. In order to be able to respond to the needs and concerns of the persons
directly or indirectly affected by the game-based learning arrangements, a pre-study was
accomplished, including four preparatory focus group workshops with (i) students, (ii)
teachers, (iii) parents, and (iv) professionals from the fields of credit counseling, consumer
protection, youth work and the finance sector, respectively. In these workshops, participants
were first invited to express what they spontaneously associate with the notion of financial
literacy education for secondary school students. Then, they were asked (a) to describe
typical and critical situations in which, in their experience, young people get in touch with
money and finance issues, and (b) to specify which competencies they consider important to
successfully deal with these situations. The workshops were complemented with semi-
structured interviews with further representatives of the Swiss educational field (e.g., the
president of the parents association or the head of the secondary school section within the
teacher association). All workshops and interviews were held in summer and autumn 2014.
DIGITAL LEARNING GAMES IN FINANCIAL LITERACY EDUCATION 14
Moreover, in depth content analyses of the new curriculum documents and additional
reviews of the literature on financial literacy education in other age groups and countries
were conducted. These activities led to (i) a detailed description of situations, tasks and
contents which could possibly be focused by the game-based learning arrangements, and (ii)
a first list of requirements for the game and the related modules. This list included issues
such as compatibility with the new curriculum and with the technical possibilities in schools,
or avoidance of violence to humans or animals. The results of the pre-study were discussed in
the team of experts and the steering committee. It was then decided to focus on budgeting
(including avoidance of excessive indebtedness), and a model of related contents was built.
Moreover, additional content-related, technical and organizational requirements were
identified. All these information were merged into a tender specification.
(2) Development of the digital learning game. Based on the tender specification, a dedicated
team of game designers was selected in December 2014 and commissioned with the
development of a corresponding digital learning game.2 The game was developed as a rogue-
like action-adventure game, and has a classical super-hero plot with ten levels of increasing
difficulty. It is located in a fictive town where the local bank has been hacked by hostile
robots. For this reason, the savings of all inhabitants and even the class kitty are in danger.
Players are invited to step into the shoes of a game character which can be customized in
terms of visual style, and whose mission is to rescue the savings by overcoming the robots.
The robot scenario was chosen in order to satisfy the demand of minimizing violence or
damage, especially to living beings. The game incorporates an immersive approach, i.e., it is
designed in a way that makes planning of money and time obligatory. Moreover, it provides
2 Selection criteria included, among others: Originality and appeal of the game concept, fidelity to the contents
that should be covered, experience and references of the design team, feasibility in terms of available budget and
DIGITAL LEARNING GAMES IN FINANCIAL LITERACY EDUCATION 15
ample opportunities for autonomous choices and control: Money can be earned either by
conquering the robots and/or by pursuing a part-time job.3 Thus, at the beginning of every
mission, the player has to decide how much time to spend with each of these activities. In
this context, he or she has also to plan enough time for learning in order to avoid a decline of
school grades. To prepare for the mission, the player can then buy equipment in a shop, such
as special clothing to inhibit losing energy, drinks to improve attacking skills, and various
“weapons” such as a frypan or a swab. With regard to these weapons, a humoristic approach
was chosen, again to prevent glorification of violent behavior to humans or animals. Besides
the money that the player spends for buying the equipment, he or she may also lose it by
being defeated during the game. At the end of each round, a detailed account of incomes and
expenses is provided, together with some advice on how to optimize financial decision
making. Besides these design elements, the game also includes a tutorial device which is
supposed to familiarize students with the game world and mission. The game contains no in-
app purchases, and can be downloaded for free. Unlimited access is thus guaranteed.
During the game development process, various consultative meetings were held with the
game designers on the one hand, and the experts and the steering committee on the other. In
order to optimize the communication flow and ensure appropriateness for the application
context, a group of four secondary school teachers as well as one faculty staff from a teacher
education college were occasionally involved. These were the same persons as those who
collaborated in the development of the accompanying learning modules (see next bullet
point). In addition, previous versions of the game were tested with selected samples of
secondary school students with regard to usability, appeal etc.
3 Incurring debts is also possible, but only at higher levels of difficulty.
DIGITAL LEARNING GAMES IN FINANCIAL LITERACY EDUCATION 16
(3) Development of the game-related learning modules. Parallel to the game development
activities, a total of five learning modules were created in close cooperation between experts,
designers and practitioners. In particular, three researchers from economics education, two
professional media designers and the already mentioned group of four secondary school
teachers as well as the teacher educator were mainly involved in this part of the project. In
addition, one person from the game designer team was regularly consulted in order to support
reciprocal update and feedback between the two design teams (i.e. game designers and
learning module designers). The activities for developing the game-related learning modules
encompassed a two hour kick-off meeting and two half-day face-to-face workshops with all
the above mentioned participants and several Skype meetings between some of them,
especially between the media designers and the economics education researchers. In the kick-
off meeting, which was held in June 2015, the background of the project as well as the basic
idea of the game was explained, and organizational issues of the workshops were elaborated.
The first workshop then took place in September 2015. In this workshop, a beta-version of
the game was presented, and relevant theoretical considerations and empirical findings (see
previous sections of this chapter) were briefly summarized in order to provide a conceptual
background for developing the game-based learning arrangements. Moreover, key objectives
(so called superordinate competencies) and learning goals were specified according to the
new curriculum requirements, and discussed with the teachers. Given the pivotal role of
learning tasks for guiding students’ learning processes, it was decided that the accompanying
learning modules should be focused on the provision of game-related task assignments. To
support teachers to create such assignments, six different types of learning tasks with
different instructional functions 4 were also presented during the first workshop. These tasks
4 This differentiation of task types is inspired by and adapted from a classification scheme proposed by Luthiger et
DIGITAL LEARNING GAMES IN FINANCIAL LITERACY EDUCATION 17
include: (1) introduction tasks which intend to familiarize students with a situation or
problem, (2) elaboration tasks which support students to develop the knowledge and skills
relevant for coping with the situation or problem, (3) exploration tasks which invite students
to try out different approaches and solutions, (4) practice tasks which are designed to deepen
knowledge or automatize skills, (5) reflection tasks which are expected to stimulate students
critical thinking, and (6) transfer tasks which should encourage processes of
decontextualizing and recontextualizing knowledge and skills in different application
settings. The teachers were asked to develop learning arrangements which are centered on the
game and include the different task types. Their suggestions were supposed to be brought to
the second workshop in October 2015, discussed with the colleagues, the researchers and the
media designers, and then reviewed according to the feedbacks which resulted from these
discussions. Initially the teachers were not at ease with their task, and tended to propose
rather detached task assignments that had nothing to do with the learning game. So, this
further opportunity for reciprocal exchange and feedback was indispensable. In addition to
this, the second workshop addressed questions regarding the implementation and evaluation
of the game-based learning arrangements. The products which resulted from this process (i.e.
sequences of learning tasks and respective worksheets) were then submitted to a field testing,
and subsequently revised and fine-tuned according to the evaluation results (cf. next section).
Revision and fine-tuning were done by the media designers in close cooperation with the
economics education experts. As depicted in table 1, in the final version (i.e., after the
evaluation results have been incorporated), the learning modules comprise between two and
four lessons, with one lesson corresponding to 45 minutes. Basically, they are offered as best
practice models which have to be adapted by any given teacher who uses them to meet the
DIGITAL LEARNING GAMES IN FINANCIAL LITERACY EDUCATION 18
circumstances of a specific class. The modules include a description of learning goals and
contents, activity outlines, and worksheets with concrete task assignments. In addition, some
suggestions regarding the implementation of the respective module are given. Two out of the
five modules are most suitable for use in grade 7 or at the beginning of grade 8, respectively,
whereas the other three were constructed for older students (i.e., end of grade 8 or grade 9).
Each of the modules can be used individually or be combined with one another. Table 1 also
summarizes the contents and the superordinate competencies of the five game-based learning
DIGITAL LEARNING GAMES IN FINANCIAL LITERACY EDUCATION 19
Table 1: Duration, contents and superordinate competencies of the five game-based learning modules
- Incomes / expenses
- Functions of a budget
- Goods and costs
- Personal buying behavior
- Purchase and financing
- Durable and non-durable
consumer goods, luxury
- Purchasing and follow-up
- Functions of a budget
- Consumer behavior and
- Risk and safety
- Costs, return, interest
- Financial strategies
- Probability of success and
- Impact of purchasing
decisions on budget
Learners are able to draw up
a budget and to consider it
when making purchase
Learners are able to
critically reflect their
purchase and financial
Learners are able to estimate
purchasing and follow-up
costs of different durable
and non-durable consumer
goods. They are able to
draw up a budget and to
consider it when making
Learners are able to
critically reflect their
purchase and financial
Learners are able to choose
proper financial strategies
for specific purchases.
DIGITAL LEARNING GAMES IN FINANCIAL LITERACY EDUCATION 20
Implementation and formative evaluation of the game-based learning arrangements. In
order to optimize the game-based learning arrangements and to locate possible shortcomings, a
field testing with a total of 60 secondary school students was conducted between January and
February 2016. All students came from the classes of the four participating teachers. Therefore,
they might be considered as convenience sample. In the field testing, the three game-based
learning modules for grade 8-9 and one of the grade 7-8 modules were implemented and
evaluated with 36 and 24 students, respectively. Module 1 in grade 7/8 could not be tested due to
illness of the respective teacher.
Given the formative intent of the evaluation, we were especially interested in gathering
information on the practicability of the game-based learning modules in general, and of the
usability of the learning tasks in particular, both in terms of temporal feasibility and perceived
difficulty by teachers and students. In addition, we wanted to get some first impressions
concerning the motivational appeal of the game-based learning arrangements as well as their
perceived effectiveness for supporting learning and transfer. For this purpose, the following
evaluation instruments were used: Teachers were asked to observe students during the
accomplishment of the tasks, to take notes of their observations and to use these notes to fill in a
questionnaire. This questionnaire included general questions concerning the learning
arrangement. Teachers were asked to judge how easy or difficult they found (i) to handle the
learning module, both in terms of content and time, and (ii) to explain the game and the game-
related learning tasks to the students. Additionally, the teachers should state (iii) to what extend
they think that students have enjoyed the lessons, and have learned what is specified in the
learning goals, respectively. Besides these general questions, specific questions regarding the
learning tasks were included. To get an accurate picture on what needs to be enhanced, these
DIGITAL LEARNING GAMES IN FINANCIAL LITERACY EDUCATION 21
questions were customized for the single learning modules. All questions (i.e. the general and
specific ones) were open-ended and explicitly invited the respondents to make suggestions for
improvements in case of inconsistencies or problems. At the end of the questionnaire, they were
also asked if they had any other kind of observation, proposal or advice. The utterances of the
teachers were analyzed qualitatively by collecting themes that emerged in their answers. All
answers were read, interpreted and discussed by at least two researchers. Then, the
interpretations were cross-checked by the teachers and corrections were made where necessary.
To minimize disruptions of the learning processes, but nevertheless obtain informative
statements from the students, their worksheets were prepared with a traffic light for every
learning task, so that they just had to tick if they fully understood (green), partially understood
(yellow) or not understood (red) what the task assignment asked them to do. Additionally, they
had to answer a few questions which asked them if and to what extent they enjoyed playing the
game and completing the tasks, and if and to what extent these instructional resources helped
them to understand the respective financial literacy contents in such a way that they could
explain them to a friend. With regard to these questions, students were asked to indicate whether
they totally agree, agree to some extent or do not agree, and to provide a brief explanation of
their respective judgment. Finally, they were also invited to express further concerns or ideas
regarding the experienced game-based learning arrangements. Note that in order to avoid
students to answer in a socially desirable manner all of their data were collected anonymously. In
addition to analyzing the students’ perceptions, we also conducted a first analysis of their
solutions of the learning tasks. Students’ ratings and number of correct task solutions were then
submitted to frequency analysis. In case of open-ended questions, again, emerging themes were
DIGITAL LEARNING GAMES IN FINANCIAL LITERACY EDUCATION 22
With respect to the practicability of the learning arrangements, time pressure was the
main concern expressed by the teachers, and according to them, the possible reasons for this
concern are twofold. One reason was the fact that at the date of the field testing the game was not
yet accessible to the public, so all preparatory activities to familiarize students with the game had
to be done during class hours, which was quite time consuming. A second reason they mentioned
had to do with the temporal feasibility, and partially also the difficulty of the learning tasks. In
this regard, it could be stated that introduction tasks – unsurprisingly – were implemented in all
modules. Even though they caused no particular problems in terms of difficulty, two of the four
introduction tasks took longer than planned. Thus, the time specifications had to be adapted in
the module descriptions. The elaboration tasks led to more problems. In two of the four learning
arrangements the teachers articulated that these tasks were too difficult, and that students needed
more support. They suggested explaining the respective task assignments orally because this is
easier for students to understand. The exploration tasks, the reflection tasks and the transfer tasks
posed the greatest challenge in all four tested learning arrangements. The reflection tasks were
realized in three of the four cases. However, additional help from the teacher was needed in each
case. Exploration tasks were employed in two classes, but worked out properly only in one of
them. A transfer task was put into practice only once and also required further assistance from
In the main, the teachers’ evaluations of task difficulty were also mirrored by the task-
related judgments from the students as well as by the first analysis of the task solutions which
they proposed. As this analysis shows, only about half of the tasks were executed correctly.
However, despite these problems, the ratings regarding the motivational appeal and the
effectiveness of the game-based learning arrangements were very positive. Here, the evaluation
DIGITAL LEARNING GAMES IN FINANCIAL LITERACY EDUCATION 23
results indicate that in three of four learning arrangements students unequivocally stated that they
have enjoyed playing the game, and also have liked to process the learning tasks. This conviction
was largely confirmed by the observations of the teachers. In case of the forth arrangement, it
happened that the respective topic had already been treated in class. Thus, those students found
the lessons somewhat repetitive and boring, but nonetheless appreciated the game approach. In
addition to their perceptions regarding the motivational appeal of the game-based learning
arrangements, most of the students stated that they had understood the financial literacy content
treated in the respective learning module, and that they would be able to explain it to a friend.
This seems to be in some contradiction with the analysis of students solutions to the learning
tasks, and interestingly enough those who answered all questions correctly rated their knowledge
lower than the ones who answered only half of the questions correctly. However, such
inconsistencies in the objective and subjective ratings of competencies are quite common in
financial literacy assessments (e.g., Aprea & Wuttke, 2016), and may point to a nontrivial lack of
proficiency in adequately judging one’s own abilities in this domain. All suggestions for
improvements derived from the field testing were incorporated into the revised version of the
game-based learning modules, or reported to the game designers, if they concerned the game,
Preliminary guidelines for integrating learning games into financial literacy education
The results from the evaluation, together with our experiences in the process of
developing the game and the learning modules, offer a potential for suggesting some preliminary
guidelines concerning the integration of digital games into financial literacy education. First,
there seems to be no indication that the expected beneficial effects of game-based learning do not
DIGITAL LEARNING GAMES IN FINANCIAL LITERACY EDUCATION 24
apply to the domain of financial literacy which, so far, has been neglected. In addition, the results
also support the pivotal role of adequate design, both in terms of game design and instructional
design. Relating to the former, it can be assumed that an immersive approach, with high
autonomy and control to the player is a recommended design strategy also for digital games in
financial literacy education. With regard to instructional design, we would like to underline the
need to integrate the game with the non-game instruction as well as the need to guide students’
game-related activities with the help of respective learning tasks in the classroom setting. Both,
the alternation between game and non-game instruction, have to be carefully planned, and
teachers as well as students need sufficient time to familiarize themselves with the respective
requirements. However, as our experiences also reveal, such planning is not achieved
automatically, but needs to be supported through appropriate measures of teacher education
and/or teachers’ professional development (for a similar concern see Lucey, 2016). This is
especially required if teachers have to react to new curriculum demands and/or if they have no
formal education in the related field, as it is very often the case in financial literacy education.
Finally, we would like to stress an organizational aspect which is concerned with the way in
which the game and the learning modules were developed. Concerning this matter, we would
conclude that the close collaboration with the teachers as well as the exchange between the
design teams and the contact with all stakeholders can be considered a key element for ensuring
the effectiveness of the process and supporting the acceptance of the resulting products.
Summary and outlook
Given the importance of financial literacy as a key 21st century skill, in this chapter, we
argued that game-based learning can offer one possibility to overcome the shortcomings of
DIGITAL LEARNING GAMES IN FINANCIAL LITERACY EDUCATION 25
currently available financial literacy programs by making financial education more effective with
regard to the demands of financial decision making and more appealing with regard to the needs
and preferences of the target group. More specifically, our aim was to demonstrate how digital
learning games could be instructionally embedded in order to support learning, motivation and
transfer in the context of financial education. For that purpose, we sketched the potential benefits
of learning with digital learning games, summarized the available empirical research regarding
the effects and conditions of game-based learning, and described an effort to develop, implement
and evaluate a set of game-based learning arrangements in a secondary school financial literacy
program in Switzerland within the scope of a field testing. On the basis of the results and
experiences from this field testing, we finally provided suggestions for guidelines concerning the
integration of digital games into financial literacy education.
Our study was a first attempt to formatively evaluate the practicability and usability as
well as the perceived motivational appeal and learning effectiveness of the game-based learning
arrangements in a financial education program in Switzerland. This attempt showed that well
designed digital games could be productively used in secondary school financial literacy
education. It additionally showed the value of a integrating game and non-game instruction.
However, of course, we are aware that this attempt has its limitations, particularly with regard to
methodological issues such as the convenience sample, the limited number of participants and
the instrumentation. Given these limitations, further research and development activities are
warranted. These activities should, among others, specifically address the following aspects: (1)
additional formative evaluation studies to further optimize the game-based learning arrangements
(e.g. with regard to the sequencing and the assignments of the game-related learning tasks),
possibly with a more systematic sample of teachers and students; (2) implementation studies to
DIGITAL LEARNING GAMES IN FINANCIAL LITERACY EDUCATION 26
locate the organizational conditions for an effective use of the game-based learning
arrangements, and (3) summative evaluation studies with randomized field trials to determine the
comparative effectiveness of the game-based learning arrangements in financial literacy
education as well as the generalizability of the results.
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BRIEF BIOGRAPHIES AND RELEVANT PUBLICATIONS
Carmela Aprea is Full Professor and Head of the Chair of Business and Economics Education
at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena (Germany). She holds a Diploma Degree in Business
and Economics Education from the Goethe University Frankfurt (Germany) and a PhD in the
same field from the University of Mannheim (Germany). Her relevant publications include:
Aprea, C., Wuttke, E., Breuer, K., Keng, N.K., Davies, P., Greimel-Fuhrmann, B., & Lopus, J.
(Eds.) (2016). International Handbook of Financial Literacy. Singapore: Springer.
Aprea, C., & Wuttke, E. (2016). Financial literacy of adolescent and young adults: setting the
course for a competence-oriented assessment approach, submitted to International review
of economics education. In C. Aprea, E. Wuttke, K. Breuer, N. K. Keng, P. Davies, B.
Greimel-Fuhrmann & J. Lopus (Eds.), International Handbook of Financial Literacy.
Leumann, S., Heumann, M., Syed, F., & Aprea, C. (2016). Developing a comprehensive
financial literacy framework: Voices from stakeholders in European Vocational
Education and Training. In E. Wuttke, J. Seifried & S. Schumann (Eds.), Research in
Vocational Education and Training. Opladen: Barbara Budrich
Aprea, C., Wuttke, E., Stock, M. (2015). Exploring the possibilities for a bildungs-oriented
conceptualisation of financial literacy. In S. Hillen & C. Aprea (Eds.), Instrumentalism in
Education- Where is Bildung left? (pp. 89-104). Münster: Waxmann.
Aprea, C. (2015). Secondary school students’ informal conceptions of complex economic
phenomena: Findings and implications for the design of formal curricula and instruction.
International Journal of Educational Research, 69, 12-22.
Aprea, C., Wuttke, E., Leumann, S., & Heumann, M. (2015). Kompetenzfacetten von Financial
Literacy: Sichtweisen verschiedener Akteure. In J. Seifried, S. Seeber & B. Ziegler
(Eds.), Jahrbuch der berufs- und wirtschaftspädagogischen Forschung 2015.
Schriftenreihe der Sektion Berufs- und Wirtschaftspädagogik (pp. 11-34). Opladen:
Aprea, C. & Sappa, V. (2014). Variations of young Germans’ informal conceptions of financial
and economic crises phenomena. Journal of Social Science Education, 13(3), 57-67.
DIGITAL LEARNING GAMES IN FINANCIAL LITERACY EDUCATION 32
Cattaneo, A., & Aprea, C. (2014). Using technologies to integrate vocational learning in multiple
contexts. In V. C. X. Wang (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Education and Technology
in a Changing Society. Hershey, PA: IGI-Global.
Julia Schultheis holds a Master Degree in Business and Economics Education from the
Friedrich Schiller University Jena (Germany). In her master thesis she conducted a
comprehensive literature review on how lay people represent the economic and financial crisis.
She is a graduate research assistant and PhD student at the Chair of Business and Economics
Education of the Friedrich Schiller University Jena (Germany).
Kathleen Stolle is an undergraduate student research assistant at the Chair of Business and
Economics Education of the Friedrich Schiller University Jena (Germany).