Digital Escape Rooms in STEM Education: History
Please note this is an old version of this entry, which may differ significantly from the current revision.

The traditional lecture-based model of teaching and learning has led to the exploration of innovative approaches including digital escape rooms. Digital escape rooms offer an immersive and engaging experience that promotes critical thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork, making them a unique opportunity to address the challenges of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, which is often perceived as difficult, boring, and intimidating.

  • digital escape rooms
  • student engagement
  • experiential learning
  • problem-solving skills
  • STEM

1. Introduction

Digital escape rooms have become an increasingly popular tool in education, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of remote and hybrid learning models [1]. Digital escape rooms provide an online alternative to traditional physical escape rooms and enable students can solve puzzles and challenges from the comfort of their own home or classroom [2]. The concept of digital escape rooms is not new, as they have been used in corporate training and team building activities for several years. However, their use in education has gained momentum in recent years, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) education [3]. Escape rooms offer a fun and engaging way to promote active and experiential learning, and students can work collaboratively to solve problems and apply their knowledge in a real-world context [4].
Digital escape rooms can be used to support a variety of learning objectives, from teaching basic concepts to reinforcing complex theories and applications [5]. Digital escape rooms can be customized to meet the specific needs and interests of different age groups, subject areas, and learning styles [6]. For example, they can be designed to teach coding skills [7], web page design [8], software engineering [9], entrepreneurship [10], electronics [11], aerospace engineering [12], biology [13], chemistry [14][15][16], language [17], and mathematics [18][19][20][21], among other topics. Moreover, digital escape rooms can be used to assess and evaluate students’ learning progress and achievement. Educators can create quizzes or puzzles that align with the learning objectives and measure students’ understanding and retention of the material [22]. Digital escape rooms can provide opportunities for the gamification of learning [23][24], where students can earn points, badges, or rewards for completing tasks and achieving learning goals. This can incentivize students to stay engaged and motivated throughout the learning process. The use of digital escape rooms has been particularly beneficial during the COVID-19 pandemic, as it has allowed educators to maintain continuity of learning and engage students in a virtual or hybrid environment [25][26]. It has also provided a way for educators to create immersive and interactive learning experiences [27][28], even in the absence of physical resources or equipment.
Traditional approaches to education may not be sufficient to prepare students for the rapidly changing job market. In order to keep up with the pace of technological innovation and industry demands, innovative practices in STEAM education are needed. Innovative practices in STEAM education refer to teaching methods and strategies that encourage active and experiential learning, foster creativity and innovation, and equip students with the skills and competencies needed for success in the STEAM fields [29]. Innovative practices in STEAM education can take many forms, such as project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, interdisciplinary learning, and collaborative learning. These practices prioritize hands-on experiences and problem-solving and encourage students to apply their knowledge and skills in real-world contexts. Innovative practices in STEAM education can enhance students’ engagement, motivation, and achievement [30]. By creating engaging and relevant learning experiences, students are more likely to stay interested and invested in their learning. This can lead to higher levels of motivation and achievement, which in turn can have positive impacts on students’ future academic and career success. In addition to preparing students for the workforce, innovative practices in STEAM education can also contribute to addressing global challenges such as climate change, health, and sustainability [27][31]. By fostering critical thinking, creativity, and innovation, students can develop solutions to complex problems that affect society and the environment [26][28][32].

2. Digital Escape Rooms in STEM Education

2.1. Theoretical Frameworks for Understanding the Use of Digital Escape Rooms in Education

There are several theoretical frameworks that can be used to understand the use of digital escape rooms in education, including experiential learning theory, game-based learning theory, and cognitive load theory.
Experiential learning [33] theory posits that learning occurs through a cycle of experience, reflection, and abstraction. In the context of digital escape rooms, students are presented with a challenging and immersive experience during which they must use critical thinking and problem-solving skills to solve puzzles and complete tasks. The process of reflection and abstraction occurs as students work together to make sense of the experience, develop new insights and understanding, and apply their knowledge and skills in real-world contexts.
Game-based learning [34] theory suggests that game elements such as challenge, competition, and rewards can enhance engagement and motivation in learning. Digital escape rooms often incorporate these game elements in order to create an immersive and engaging learning experience. The use of digital escape rooms can also provide opportunities for students to develop skills such as collaboration, communication, and creativity, which are important for success in the STEAM fields.
Collaborative learning [35] and team-based learning [36] are instructional approaches that involve students working together in groups to achieve shared learning goals. Digital escape rooms can be designed to support these approaches by providing opportunities for students to collaborate and work together to solve puzzles and complete tasks. In digital escape rooms, students are often presented with complex problems that require a variety of skills and perspectives to solve. By working together in teams, students can leverage their individual strengths and expertise to develop innovative solutions to these problems. This promotes collaboration and communication skills as well as the ability to work effectively in a team.
Virtual learning [37] is an instructional approach that uses digital technologies to deliver educational content and support student learning. Digital escape rooms can be easily adapted for virtual learning environments, allowing students to participate in immersive and engaging learning experiences from anywhere in the world, such as from home, school, or other locations, making it a convenient and accessible option for virtual learning. Virtual digital escape rooms can be designed to incorporate a variety of multimedia elements, such as videos, animations, and interactive simulations, to support student learning and engagement.
Multimodal learning [38] is an instructional approach that recognizes that students have different learning styles and preferences, such as visual, auditory, and kinesthetic [39], and that learning is most effective when multiple modes of representation and engagement are used. Digital escape rooms can be designed to incorporate multiple modes of representation and engagement, such as videos, images, text, and audio, as well as interactive elements that require students to use a combination of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic skills to solve problems [40]. For example, students may be required to solve math problems using virtual manipulatives and listen to audio instructions. Digital escape rooms can also support personalized learning by providing opportunities for students to work at their own pace and level of challenge. This is achieved by designing puzzles and challenges that are scalable and adaptable so that they can be modified to meet the needs of individual learners.
Cognitive load [41] theory proposes that learning is influenced by the amount and complexity of information presented to learners. Digital escape rooms can be designed to optimize cognitive load by presenting information in a structured and manageable way and by providing scaffolding and feedback to support student learning. Additionally, digital escape rooms can provide opportunities for active and experiential learning, which can reduce cognitive load by allowing students to learn through doing rather than passively receiving information.
Another theoretical framework that can be used to understand the use of digital escape rooms in education is constructivism [42]. Constructivist learning theory suggests that students construct their own knowledge and understanding through active participation in learning activities. Digital escape rooms can provide opportunities for students to construct their own understanding of mathematical concepts and principles by engaging in problem solving and inquiry-based activities.
These theoretical frameworks provide a foundation for understanding the use of digital escape rooms in education. By incorporating elements of experiential learning theory, game-based learning theory, cognitive load theory, and constructivism, educators can create immersive and engaging learning experiences that promote active and experiential learning, enhance student engagement and motivation [43], and support the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

2.2. Empirical Evidence of the Impact of Digital Escape Rooms on Student Engagement and Learning Outcomes

There is growing empirical evidence to suggest that the use of digital escape rooms in education can have a positive impact on student engagement and learning outcomes, particularly in the area of STEM education, including mathematics [44].
Several studies have found that digital escape rooms can improve student engagement and motivation. For example, Yllana-Prieto et al. [23] found that a BrEscapeRm could be an effective tool for teaching STEM content in primary education, with students finding it fun, interesting, motivating, and exciting. Huraj et al. [8] found that digital escape rooms can significantly increase the motivation, engagement, and satisfaction of students in technical vocational subjects, although the experiment did not confirm an increase in cognitive abilities. Kuo et al. [5] showed that combining digital and physical escape rooms could improve creative thinking and learning motivation in fifth-grade science lessons. Finally, von Kotzebue et al. [45] examined the impact of sequential scaffolding in a virtual escape room for biology classes, finding that game-based learning with escape rooms could successfully support motivation and knowledge acquisition. These studies suggest that escape rooms can be an effective tool for increasing student engagement and motivation in STEM subjects, but further research is needed to explore their impact on learning outcomes and cognitive abilities.
In terms of learning outcomes, several studies have found that digital escape rooms can improve students’ problem-solving skills. For example, studies have shown that digital escape rooms can be effective in promoting learning and improving problem-solving skills. Buchner et al. [46] found that playing a digital escape room after explicit instruction was more effective for knowledge retention and domain-specific self-efficacy with lower cognitive load. Fraguas-Sánchez et al. [47] established and implemented escape rooms in the classroom successfully in pharmacy students, which promoted teamwork and improved the problem-solving skills of the students. Huraj et al. [8] also found that using a digital educational escape room lead to problem-solving skills and teamwork and significantly increased the motivation, engagement, and satisfaction of students in vocational schools. Mystakidis and Christopoulos [30] explored in-service teachers’ views on the use of a digital educational escape room in virtual reality and found that it can enhance the cognitive benefits and learning outcomes. Avargil et al. [48] built an escape room-based educational assessment for high school chemistry teachers and found that the puzzles required the implementation of significant chemical knowledge, high-order thinking skills, and creative thinking for their solution. Brady and Andersen [49] described an escape room-inspired review game for an advanced genetic analysis class at Northwestern University, which improved learning outcomes. Huang et al. [50] found that a teaching approach involving a digital escape room improved students’ learning motivation and problem-solving ability scores. Chou et al. [17] investigated students’ overall learning process during the implementation of educational escape-the-room games in classrooms and found that students actively collaborated with their team members to address problem-solving tasks during the activity. Ouariachi and Wim [27] conducted a qualitative content analysis of climate change-related escape rooms and found that escape rooms can offer experiential and immersive learning, problem-solving and critical thinking skills, and a sense of collaboration and urgency. In summary, these studies suggest that digital escape rooms can be an effective and engaging way to promote problem-solving skills in students. These activities allow students to actively engage in problem-solving tasks, collaborate with their peers, and apply theoretical learning outcomes in real-world scenarios.
Other studies have also reported positive effects of digital escape rooms on learning outcomes in subjects such as science and engineering. For example, Fraguas–Sánchez et al. [47] found that escape rooms allowed pharmacy students to apply theoretical learning outcomes of each subject, promoted teamwork and improved problem-solving skills. Kuo et al. [5] found that combining digital and physical escape rooms improved students’ creative thinking and learning motivation. Videnovik et al. [51] found that digital escape room-style games could engage students in the learning process and achieve learning outcomes. Mystakidis and Christopoulos [30] found that digital educational escape rooms can potentially enhance cognitive benefits and learning outcomes. Brady and Andersen [49] developed an escape room-inspired review game that had a positive impact on learning outcomes. Charlo [52] reported evidence of learning processes and horizontal mathematization in an educational escape room. These studies demonstrate that digital escape rooms can be effective tools for enhancing student engagement, learning outcomes, and problem-solving skills in various STEM subjects.
Digital escape rooms in education can have a positive impact on student engagement and learning outcomes in a variety of subject areas, particularly in the area of mathematics education. However, it is important to note that some studies have also reported mixed results or no significant impact of digital escape rooms on learning outcomes, and further research is still needed to fully understand the potential benefits and limitations of digital escape rooms as an educational tool. Digital escape rooms can provide a fun and engaging way for students to develop their math skills and understanding within the context of STEAM education.

This entry is adapted from the peer-reviewed paper 10.3390/su15097393


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