Gamification in education – what’s in it for students?

We all know about gamification, it has been around for some time now. The world of Learning and Development knows gamification well. They’re like old friends in a mutually beneficial relationship. As familiar to each other as a comfortable pair of slippers. Gaming technology is built into our every day, as we see, for instance, in the many Health and Wellbeing apps we use. We know that gamification can enthuse and inspire better performance in employees, can make training personalised and therefore more reactive. We know it is adaptive and motivational. As a force for change, it has many positive attributes from which we can all benefit. There could also be benefit in bringing gamification into the academic setting.

Teachers, at first, may see gamification as frivolous, or even childish, a waste of time. And it is true that in the formal setting of academia, it is a relatively new development. But schools and colleges are constantly seeking new ways of boosting student engagement and motivation. The delivery of knowledge and ideas needs all the help it can get, and heads, teachers and governing bodies should feel happy to embrace new thought, new directions and developments, particularly if it helps with the long term goals of raising standards and higher grades. The use of game mechanics and dynamics, and the incorporation of these elements into a non-game setting, ie education, can go a long way towards achieving those goals.

Let’s be clear though. Gamification is not simply about playing games. It is, in this instance, more about using the data that gaming technology gives us, and putting it to use within an educational framework.

But what’s in it for them? What’s in it for the student? Why would they want to get involved? Well, firstly, it is understood that by using gaming ideas to make a certain point, or to highlight a particular course area, we are, of course, using the students’ language. We are harnessing a small fraction of their world, their experience, to assist us in our cause. In the US, 67% of households play video games regularly. So, how to attract, engage and enthuse the students through gamification becomes the challenge for teachers.

Key aspects of gamification, such as terminology, mechanics and logic can help, and by using them to provide direction, and supporting the students’ involvement with rewards and acknowledgement, we are able to fully engage students in the process.


Game Terminology

Using the terminology of gaming is key to the idea taking root and proving successful. So that, rather than talk of ‘modules, tasks, assignments and tests’, we should think more in terms of words such as ‘challenges, mission, voyage, levels, goals’. The language of gaming is less threatening, more focussed on achievement, more exciting and entertaining. By building this terminology into the process, it feels less like course work. Students are always keen to pit themselves against their peers, competing for better results, all the while driving themselves and each other forward. That part of the process is aided by the use of the mechanics and logic behind gaming.


Game Logic and Mechanics

The logic of gaming is really quite simple. Games get more difficult as you play them, each level harder than the last. By building this effect into learning, across the course modules, and into each level, we are able to supply students with an upwardly moving structure. Building knowledge and understanding of the course work at each level is essential. This is, of course, a key aspect of more traditional formal learning.  The mechanics of gaming usually follow a path. From the setting out of the task, to final progression onto the next task, the outline is common. Elements such as challenge, competition, feedback, reward and progression are all inbuilt aspects of gaming. By harnessing this path and applying it to the coursework, gamification takes our student on a familiar journey, a well worn path.


Rewards of the game

Competition is a part of our natural make up, and when we compete successfully, we want to feel like we’ve achieved. We want rewarding. When gamers play and complete each level, they are used to receiving rewards such as points, badges, extra powers or strengths, or a higher position on a leaderboard. This process gives them the satisfaction of a job well done, and spurs them forward to the next stage, the next challenge. Students also respond well to the idea of competing against their peers, as well as challenging themselves.


Feedback from the game

Through data analysis gamification provides us the opportunity for feedback, and for that feedback, and indeed the subsequent stages, to be personalised. This means that through access to that data, each students’ learning can be accurately assessed and developed in preparation for progress through the coursework.

By using all these different elements together, we are able to provide an alternative, a ‘booster jab’ to traditional formal learning structures, and we will find students enthused and encouraged toward further learning, further development, and hopefully, to better grades.

Written by: Persia Shahkarami

Published: 14 Dec, 2016