Medical Students' Perceptions of Play and Learning: Qualitative Study With Focus Groups and Thematic Analysis

A. E. J. Van Gaalen*, A. D. C. Jaarsma, J. R. Georgiadis

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

    4 Citations (Scopus)
    26 Downloads (Pure)


    Background: In times where distance learning is becoming the norm, game-based learning (GBL) is increasingly applied to health profession education. Yet, decisions for if, when, how, and for whom GBL should be designed cannot be made on a solid empirical basis. Though the act of play seems to be intertwined with GBL, it is generally ignored in the current scientific literature. Objective: The objective of our study was to explore students' perceptions of play in leisure time and of GBL as part of mechanistic, bottom-up approach towards evidence-informed design and implementation of GBL in health profession education. Methods: We conducted 6 focus group discussions with medical and dentistry students, which were analyzed using thematic analysis. Results: A total of 58 students participated. We identified 4 major themes based on the students' perception of play in leisure time and on the combination of play and learning. Our results indicate that, while play preferences were highly various in our health profession student cohort, pleasure was the common ground reported for playing. Crucially, play and the serious act of learning seemed paradoxical, indicating that the value and meaning of play are strongly context-dependent for students. Conclusions: Four key points can be constructed from our study. First, students play for pleasure. Perceptions of pleasure vary considerably among students. Second, students consider play as inefficient. Inefficiency will only be justified when it increases learning. Third, play should be balanced with the serious and only be used for difficult or tedious courses. Fourth, GBL activities should not be made compulsory for students. We provide practical implications and directions for future research.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number25637
    Number of pages15
    JournalJmir serious games
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 28-Jul-2021


    • gamification
    • serious games
    • game-based learning
    • medical education
    • computers
    • new technology
    • focus group
    • play
    • qualitative

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