Gamification in Education

Often the term “gamification” is met with controversy, resistance and confusion, as it is not completely clear what is meant by its implementation into education.

If you strip away all of the additional information that has been added over the years, gamification is simply adding elements that are usually related to games or game-like activities into the classroom.

Some examples of these features include: points, a focus on competition and a clear set of rules. This does not just mean games that are used in the classroom but rather activities or tasks that have game-like features added to them. This is an important difference to note.

It seems like a straightforward concept but it is usually poorly implemented within education. This misuse can range from gamification being a mild yet useless distraction right to transforming an educational program into a farce of games masquerading as learning opportunities.

In this article we will look at the best use of gamification and how it can increase the overall retention of information. We will also provide a range of methods to successfully bring gamification into everyday classroom activities without it becoming a waste of the student’s time.

 More Complex Than Playing Games

Often students, teachers and parents make the mistake of thinking that gamification is simply adding games to the classroom. There is a famous range of games that are considered educational but this is not the same as the concept of gamification. This is explained further in a great article by Steven Isaacs.

To better understand the key differences between games, game-based activities and gamification, here are some points to consider:

  • Win or Lose? In gamification there is not always a built-in chance of losing. The purpose is to motivate the students to learn or to take action and therefore there shouldn’t be any form of demotivation. This is why the focus is always on achievement and the attainment of new goals.
  • Content – The game features are added to the educational system rather than the focus being on content, such as with traditional games or game-based learning. This is why gamification usually has in-depth storylines, which makes it an easier and less time-consuming system to implement.
  • Objective – The main aim for gamification is for the participants to collect points as a form of reward. This is in direct contrast with games or game-based learning, as these forms of education have strictly defined learning objectives or even no objective at all. Gamification, therefore, has a wider and more flexible learning style that means students can develop knowledge rather than immediately stopping once a certain goal has been reached.

For more details there is a useful infographic that shows the major differences between gamification, games and game-like activities.

In More Detail

 By now you will have a better picture and understanding of what gamification really is in a general sense. This is a good start and will now allow us to shift the focus to not what it is, but rather why it is important and significant in education today.

Before we look at why gamification has become widely used and what the benefits are, we must first examine a brief history of this theory.

The first example of gamification came in 1896 when stamps were sold to retailers and then used to reward loyal customers. This was all put into motion by marketers that claimed great success and results in reinforcing buying behavior and company engagement.

In the 70s the theory began to form with Thomas Malone publishing, “What Makes Things Fun to Learn: A Study of Intrinsically Motivating Computer Games” in 1980. After this work was published companies, such as American Airlines, Holiday Inn and National Car Rental, began implementing reward systems for their customers.

While gamification has been present ever since, it was not until Nick Pelling coined the official term in 2003.

For businesses, consumers and lifelong learners, gamification is now a mainstream approach and a way of life with support and funding from many official bodies.

To put things simply, the growth of gamification has established a place in both the workforce and education because it has been proven to be successful, whether it is with consumers gaining rewards for flying frequently or students achieving better test results.

The reason for this success is due to the fact that this approach makes any task more interactive and essentially playful. This includes:

Providing Goals. This offers the consumer or the student a step or a level to get to. This means that there is a visual progress throughout the process.

Keeping The Participant Motivated. Having goals is a good way to stay motivated. This, paired with being able to get rewards, keeps the learner or the consumer interested and motivated to continue to focus on the task.

Constant Rewards. What is better than getting rewards for your work or for your loyalty? This gives real value to any progress that is being made.

 In these ways, gamification can make anything more enjoyable and hook users into a process of learning. This means that consumers will be more likely to buy from one company or buy more often as they are being rewarded for doing so. Students will reap different educational benefits.

What Teachers Can Expect From Gamification

The same principles that are applied to gamification in any setting can be successfully used in the classroom. The strength of this theory in schools is something that can create synergy between classroom learning as focused on by the teacher and classroom learning becoming a focus for students.

Few students would say that the normal classroom setting is playful or enjoyable. Gamification is something that changes that by giving students the goals and rewards as previously mentioned, but this can also have lasting positive effects in other areas. This process will:

  • Motivate students to become more involved,
  • Give teachers better tools for teaching and for giving out appropriate rewards,
  • Encourage students to present their full capacity for learning at all times.

Gamification shows students that learning can be more interactive, they can receive rewards to give value to their work and that formal and informal educational settings can combine for great results.

Teachers can expect their students to be more self-motivated in the classroom. Rather than pulling teeth to get students to sit down and work through problems, they will want to work towards goals and reach those achievements on their own.

Removing some aspects of having a formal learning environment can be extremely beneficial in the sense that students will not necessarily view the gamification aspects as uninteresting but rather will participate in active learning.

While immediate benefits are regularly seen by teachers in the way students view the classroom, in their approach and their results, there are other advantages to consider that will follow the students throughout their learning career and life. These include:

Modern Life Skills – It is especially important for students to gain the skills necessary for them to enter into the 21st century as successful citizens. This means giving students access to technology and programs that will show them the real life situations. Students will develop a new framework for understanding the tasks around them and their school environment through gamification and being able to work within a reward system similar to many work situations.

Deeper Understanding – This theory will promote a better understanding of issues and solutions. Gamification helps students understand which problems need to be fixed, create systems of thinking that will promote a solution and maintain the effectiveness of those solutions. Students will be able to be creative throughout this process and this is actively encouraged.

Promote Creative Thinking – Students are able to experiment more as they learn. By testing the rules and the roles they are a part of, students will be able to understand the boundaries of the situation and of their learning. This promotes more awareness of the student’s self and abilities.

Love of Learning – The encouraged lifelong pursuit of learning is another side effect of introducing gamification and using it as a tool in the classroom. Students will no longer find learning a dull experience but rather something to be approached with the intent to achieve a goal and become a better person overall.

Engaging the Learner – Gamification, if implemented correctly, makes education more engaging and enjoyable. The learning environment can be more creative, playful and free as students have the game-like features of their education promoting a subject in a more digestible manner.

The potential for gamification in practice and the results can be endless depending on how it is used and implemented.

If these reasons are not enough for you to become invested in this method then we have included examples of specific learning programs and procedures that have been proven to be effective in the classroom.

 The Success Stories

 Gamification can be a useful classroom tool that will encourage a student’s natural desire to learn by presenting them with interesting materials and tasks with aspects of games built into them. The effectiveness of this education method has been proven time and time again.

Here are some noteworthy examples:

  1. The World Peace Game. This is a political simulation for the classroom that is game-based but is more of a scenario task for students to carry out. Created by John Hunter in Virginia, this version of gamification is designed to teach the children about being a part of the global community and the complexity of relationships between different nations around the world.How does it work? The teacher introduces the information students need to interact. This is generally a scenario with details about the resources of a country, their political positions, issues they face and various other important pieces of information. The students use these facts and achieve cooperation and positive relationships. While this specific case of gamification is marketed as a game, the details give students focus and goals while they work.
  2. Pai’s Class. This is a digitally assisted learning environment for students. In this kind of classroom, students use various devices to access games, programs and the Internet in conjunction with their studies. This means that students will be learning about a particular subject or many subjects and be introduced to basic concepts using technology.

This use of technology and age-appropriate graphics has increased interest and improved overall test scores. Students can reach different levels and get rewards for their success within the technology that they use. This is a school of gamification that can be used across many different age groups and with a wide range of subjects and topics.

  1. Coursera. This is an educational technology that operates collaboratively with leading universities to make their courses available to students for free. This is an example of gamification that applies to higher-level learning rather than the more commonly thought of elementary school environment.

This program requires students to watch videos on their subjects of choice and then submit assignments and tests for evaluation. In this process students can level up and receive badges and rewards for their achievements. There is also a level of interaction between students to enhance the overall learning experience and create a community feeling.

Bringing The Theory Into The Classroom

We Haven’t Been Properly Introduced – It is very difficult to immediately include a full range of gamification techniques into the classroom. Some of the most challenging aspects are:

  • Getting students to the idea of a constant reward system,
  • Fully understanding a potentially complex system before putting it into place,
  • Creating the unique style of gamification that suits the specific group of students.

When first starting to use gamification, it is a good idea to focus on educational games. Many classrooms have game-related activities built into the daily routine but not all focus on the concept of being rewarded, beyond the student being able to enjoy the process of learning.

Including gamification concepts in the classroom is easy by gently adapting existing games that students are familiar with. By including badges, achievements, points and other aspects of the theory, any game-based activity becomes a starting point for implementing the theory as a whole.

Here are some classic games that are easily transformed into tools for gamification.

Scheduled Doses – A common issue with this theory is choosing the right time to include it in the daily timetable of a classroom. It is a huge task for students to go from nothing to absolutely everything they do being point-based. By selecting activities that will have a system based on points and building from there, the atmosphere will become implemented slowly and it will quickly spread to other activities, usually at the student’s request.

It is important to not try to make gamification an all-or-nothing system and to integrate it into a full curriculum. One of the best places to start are grades. Instead of using the traditional system you can equate these to terms that remind students of games. This includes concepts such as:

  • Achievements,
  • XP points,
  • Badges,
  • Lives,
  • Levels,

If you are creative, then it is fun to invent all of the ways that your class’ favorite video game references can be implemented into the grading system. For some inspiration there are fantastic suggestions here.

Foster Competition – It is a common theme in education to not create too much competition between students but this is crucial for gamification to be successful. There has to be a desire for points and this is important to foster, especially at the beginning.

There are several ways that the teacher can encourage competition including:

  • Leaderboards – Making the number one spot publicly means that students will know what they need to do to get higher on the board.
  • Prizes – Whether this is something relatively small or more coveted, having a prize to reflect the achievements will help develop a competitive nature in the students.

Having more of a focus than simply points has a great overall benefit on the energy levels in a classroom and the desire to achieve more through the education system. It is, however, still important to keep a balance between a cooperative and a competitive classroom. To see how to do this more effectively you should definitely check out this article.

 Equalize The Playing Field – It is a common misconception that gamification is only suited to extroverts. By introducing the aspects of gamification into quieter more introverted activities you will be able to level the playing field and provide the benefits to the entire class.

One of the greatest tools for this is the range of apps available for quieter quizzing. The use of the app is on an individual level but the points or XP can be easily tracked and added to a collective leaderboard.

This research is indispensable when you are trying to better understand how to implement gamification for both introverts and extroverts.

 Common Mistakes To Avoid

It is often said that the use of gamification can be potentially harmful. There are several reported reasons for this but it should be noted that the most common cause of gamification failing is due to mistakes made with the implementation of the theory.

Here are some of the most common errors made by educators. They are not necessarily made by those new to gamification but they can also develop over time as the original idea becomes stale with the students in the educational system. Focusing on the successful implementation and the maintenance of that focus can really make a difference in the results observed in the classroom.

  • Winning Isn’t Everything – One of the most common errors that educators make is crafting the classroom to be too focused on achieving points. Having students too focused on winning means that the educational value of the tasks will be lost.

 The reason that this happens is almost always because the stakes are too high or the prizes are too desirable. It is the duty of the teacher to put themselves in the mindset of their student and choose prizes that are desirable enough without them becoming the main focus.

This issue might seem contradictory to the push for prizes and points mentioned previously, but it should be considered how exactly this has to be done for your specific class.

A good way to avoid this from happening is to keep the focus on: “Does this result in learning?” This will ensure that winning is always secondary to a learning objective.

  • Too Much Reward – The concept of gamification is often oversimplified when it is put into place. It is a common belief that it is the achieving of goals that drives the students forward and this means they create systems that awards points or achievements almost arbitrarily. If the success is not meaningful and consistent then the students will quickly lose interest. Students need to feel like they are really progressing whilst they are earning points and getting rewards.

 At first this can be a very laborious task of continually checking the reward system and keeping to strict rules, but once the students get a hang of the system it will start to regulate itself. 

  • Not Integrating The System Whether this is treating gamification as an isolated learning technique or not following up on a natural process, not bringing it fully into the daily schedule means it is usually a waste of time. It should be a solid part of a larger curriculum that gives students a chance to get to know the system and fully benefit from it.

 This should be balanced when you first introduce this theory into the classroom so that it is not overwhelming. In the end, however, the theory should be a normal part of the overall educational approach.

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