‘Gamification’ is a fancy word that has been largely used in the education and learning sector for many years. But what does it actually mean and how can it lead to improved learning outcomes?

In this guide we’re going to explain the benefits of gamification in learning and how both teachers and parents can use it to increase students’ concentration and knowledge.

What is Gamification?

Simply put, the definition of gamification is the use of game-design elements and game principals in non-game contexts. For example, in-game principals and themes such as acquiring virtual ‘points’ or other currency, and completing series of tasks or activities to advance to the next level, may be used in contexts other than gaming to provide fun and stimulation for the learner.

Gamification can also be defined as a set of activities and processes to solve problems by using the characteristics of game elements.

Whilst typical game elements are by no means new, they have indeed become increasingly common in non-game contexts such as websites, digital marketing, enterprise applications and even virtual to-do lists and productivity tools.

One huge area where gamification is highly prevalent, however, is in education.

Gamification in Education

Gamification is becoming increasingly used in educational settings for a number of reasons. In short, it ‘makes the hard stuff more fun’, helping to motivate students and make them more engaged with the subject matter.

Gamification theory in education

The gamification theory in education is that learners learn best when they are also having fun. Not only this – they also learn best when they have goals, targets and achievements to reach for, of course in a way the learner still perceives as fun.

Because of the addictive features of video games that intrigue children (and adults) and get them hooked, it’s only natural that we see similar engagement results when these game-based elements are applied to learning materials.

Gamification in learning involves using game-based elements such as point scoring, peer competition, team work, score tables to drive engagement, help students assimilate new information and test their knowledge. It can apply to school-based subjects, but is also used widely in self-teaching apps and courses, showing that the effects of gamification do not stop when we are adults.

Technology permeates a lot of our day-to-day lives – having changed the way we live, shop, work, play, eat, meet people and socialise. Policy-makers are starting to explore the potential benefits of using technology to streamline teacher workload in earnest. We’ve also already known for some time that taking something many children love – games – and using some of the features to support learning has great benefits.

Gamification Examples

Teachers and parents can implement gamification in various ways across countless subject areas. Though many schools already utilise apps and educational games via computers and tablets, it doesn’t all have to be about technology.

Unlike game-based learning, which involves students making their own games or playing commercially-made video games, gamification is simply bringing game-based elements that make these platforms popular, and integrating them into other activities within the (home) classroom.

Some examples of game elements that can be used to engage and motivate learners include:

  • Narrative
  • Immediate feedback
  • Fun
  • “Scaffolded learning” with challenges that increase
  • Mastery (for example, in the form of levelling up)
  • Progress indicators (for example, through points/badges/leaderboards, also called PBLs)
  • Social connection
  • Player control.

A classroom that contains some or all of these elements can be considered a “gamified” classroom.

The best combination are the ones that create sustained engagement, consider the unique needs of the learners and do more than just use points and levels to motivate players. The most effective gamification systems make use of other elements such as narrative and connection with fellow players/learners to really capture the learner’s interest.

Teachers can implement gamification via the following examples:

1. Giving points for meeting academic objectives

Inspire students to see simple sets of questions in a whole new light. Correct or well-structured answers operate on a points system, with students moving up through the ranks.

Do students need to be citing details from the text and evidence for conclusions in class discussions? Answers without evidence can be worth 1 point, a correct answer with 1 piece of evidence worth 2 points, and a correct answer + 2 pieces of evidence = 3 points.

2. Giving points for meeting procedural/non-academic objectives

Points systems can also work well for non-academic tasks as well, such as tidyinf the classroom, putting on coats and hats, lining up in register order or in their correct houses etc.

E.g. Need to shorten the time it takes to check homework? All students who have their homework out ready to be checked before being prompted by the teacher now receive 2 points.

3. Creating playful barriers

One of the primary tenets of gamification is the use of encouragement mechanics through presenting playful barriers–challenges, for example. Playful barriers can be academic or behavioural, social or private, creative or logistical.

4. Creating competition within the classroom

Competition with classmates, other classes or even with the teacher is a surefire game-based element that works.

For example: students must follow a rule that the teacher sets, and anytime a student follows the rule, the class gets a point. Anytime a student does not follow a rule, the teacher gets a point. This is particularly great for introducing procedures and new behavioural expectations. If the class wins, the teacher can use a sustainable reward, such as a 1-minute dance party, extended break time, or fewer homework tasks.

5. Comparing and reflecting on personalised performance

Some video games offer a personalised breakdown of the player’s performance at the end of each level – detailing enormous data such as achievements, points, strengths, weaknesses and ways to reflect on their performance and compare with others.

For example, one game might offer statistics of which objectives were met and how, assign a ‘badge’ based on that particular performance ‘style,’ then track every detail around that performance such as total number of jumps, number of enemies alerted, number of different ways a specific problem was solved, etc.

Teachers can do a similar thing – whilst students are levelling up, collecting points and competing with one another, they can be collecting data, tracking progress and tailoring rules, rewards and quests to motivate students further. If doing this manually sounds too much, then look at data tools within your schools’ LMS or learning apps you might already use.

6. Using levels, checkpoints, and other methods of ‘progression’

As well as tracking points, teachers can use various ‘checkpoints’, ‘levels’ or other symbols of progression to give learners focus (and proportionate bragging rights when they achieve it).

Track points over multiple classes for example, then when students reach an important milestone such as 100 points let them ‘level up’. As they progress further give out sustainable milestone rewards, such as extra reading or playtime; a session on the computer or the chance to be class captain for the day.

7. Giving learning badges instead of points or grades.

Sometimes something tangible and symbolic can mean more than receiving points. When students reach certain checkpoints or ‘levels’, you may wish to present them with a marker of their success, such as learning badges or stickers.

8. Helping students assume specific perspectives in learning

This element of fantasy role-play is a big draw of video games. Allow students the chance to take on different roles as learners such as as a judge, designer, father, doctor, etc. and see how they rise to the occasion using their imaginations.

Benefits of Gamification in the Classroom

There are many proven benefits to using gamification in the classroom, such as:

  • Students feel like they have ownership over their learning
  • A more relaxed atmosphere in regards to failure, since learners can simply try again
  • More fun in the classroom
  • Learning becomes visible through progress indicators
  • Students may uncover an intrinsic motivation for learning
  • Students can explore different identities through different avatars or characters
  • Students often are more comfortable in gaming environments, so are more proactive and open to making mistakes
  • Higher engagement and concentration levels amongst students
  • The opportunity to think outside of the box. Tasks are no longer just about filling in a worksheet – what are the wider, ‘gamified’ consequences?

Is gamification effective?

Gamification has been shown to be tremendously effective, both in educational settings, e-learning settings and even for corporate companies using it to train employees.

Gamification works for the following reasons:

  • Games play into basic needs (autonomy, value, competence etc.)
  • Games can be social (games may have leaderboards, for example, or places where high-scorers are displayed so players can feel validated when they do well. Players may be able to challenge their friends or invite others to play)
  • Games encourage ongoing engagement (gamification helps retain users by encouraging them to keep playing and gain more points, rewards, or simply discover more information)
  • It gives players (learners) control (they feel like they are in charge of their own learning journey, going from point A to point B).

Gamification works because it triggers real, powerful human emotions such as happiness, intrigue, excitement and accomplishment. All around the world, companies, institutions and household brands are using gamification, with marvellous results.

What are your thoughts on gamificiation? Is this something you’ve used in your classroom or home learning environment? Let us know on Twitter! @TrueEducation_P.

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