Escape rooms, also known as breakout rooms, are a popular type of cooperative games where players must work together to solve puzzles in order to find a way out of a locked room or a similarly closed environment. While the origins of this form of entertainment lie in adventure video games, escape rooms are best known as activities requiring co-presence in a physical space. Due to both their popularity (and thus students’ familiarity with them) and engaging nature, escape rooms have been repurposed as an innovative active learning method, well-suited for evaluation in any subject or learning problem.
Escape rooms are an example of deep content gamification and require a significant effort to design and implement. The payoff is that they have been shown to increase students’ motivation, autonomy, and academic achievement while decreasing anxiety associated with learning evaluation. Furthermore, while many examples of gamification rely at least in part on competition, which alienates some of the learners, escape rooms are a collaborative experience and help students improve their communication and teamwork skills. Some implementations of escape rooms as an active learning methodology have taken the activity back to its digital origins, particularly in the aftermath of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, which caused many institutions to switch to remote learning. In such examples, digital content such as pre-recorded videos and other multimedia content, online forms, and videoconferencing have been used to promote a collaborative gamified experience focusing on a specific subject.
In an escape room learning activity, a small group of students (usually three to five) is placed in a room, which is then locked (or at least considered to be locked). Prior to this, students are instructed that the room contains various hidden objects or clues that must be found and deciphered in order to solve specific tasks; a basic narrative frame is often provided to ground the experience (e.g., “A mad scientist has locked you in his physics lab and wants to use your group as his guinea pigs. Escape the lab before he comes back”). Students then proceed to cooperatively solve the tasks one by one, where a previous task often provides a hint or opens access to a subsequent one. The content of the tasks is related to the subject of study; published studies cover a broad spectrum of disciplines including STEM subjects (mathematics, physics, programming) and medical education, at both secondary and tertiary levels. The ultimate goal of the gamified activity is to find a passcode or a key to open the door, enabling the team to leave the room, i.e., win.