Not so long ago, we covered game-based learning, a teaching approach that shares a lot of similarities with gamification. However, these two methods have some fundamental differences, so this article will focus on gamification in education, particularly on what it is, how to implement it, and most importantly, we’ll go over whether it’s worth the effort.
The name itself might be misleading a little bit. When you think of gamification, the first thought that pops to mind is probably students playing digital games for educational purposes, which is not what gamification is about. Instead of bringing education to the gaming world (as in game-based learning), this approach is about bringing features of the gaming world to education.
It’s a really successful teaching method because, unlike some other approaches, gamification can be easily integrated into mainstream classrooms without changes to the curriculum. It is suitable for every subject and it doesn’t require the use of technology, although it sure helps.
All these things make gamification a handy tool for improving students’ motivation and increasing their involvement in school. If this sounds like something you want for your classroom, keep reading.
What is Gamification in Education?
Gamification is an educational strategy where teachers, homeschooling parents, or other educators enhance standard activities by applying typical elements of game playing. These elements refer to leaderboards, point scoring, badges, character building, competition with others, and many others.
The reasoning behind gamification is quite simple – games are addictive! Children of all ages, even adults, spend hours playing games with their attention fully captivated. Therefore, experts embarked on a journey to find what makes games so alluring. The main idea for gamification is: If we can find the main principles underlying games, we can then integrate them into the educational system. This would hopefully make education more game-like in the eyes of children.
So far, studies have mostly focused on the negative effects of games, with the WHO (World Health Organization) even including a “Game-Disorder” in its 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD).
What Makes Games so Addictive?
What makes games border-line additions is their diabolical reward system. Individuals are constantly rewarded for their time spent online by transparently seeing how they achieve points, increase rank, position themselves to others, and how effort can make them come on top. Moreover, games give people a sense of accomplishment and skill-building.
According to Jesper Juul (2001), all games are based on the following five features:
- Variable Quantifiable Outcomes
- Valued Outcomes
- Desirable Goals
So, how to translate these principles in the educational system? The answer is the concept of gamification – using game-thinking to solve problems, game frameworks to drive desired behavior, and game-based mechanics to engage, motivate, and promote learning.
Examples of Gamification in Education
You might be surprised to learn that gamification in education was introduced as early as the 1980s. This is the time where we can trace back the first uses of gamification and learning environment.
Most historians consider the 1985 video game “Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?” to be one of the first examples of gamification in an educational context. The game required players to take on the role of a fictional detective and use their knowledge of geography to track down stolen items from all around the world. The game was a huge success and promoted more serious research into the field of gamification as a potential tool for learning.
Minecraft Education Edition is probably the leading example of gamification in education. It features lesson plans and various different worlds that are downloadable so teachers can integrate their game design in the classroom. Minecraft also comes with a professional learning community where educators can connect and share resources.
Google’s Read-Along, on the other hand, uses narratives to engage students and mostly targets elementary school students who are still learning how to read and write.
Benefits of Gamification in Education
All the above-mentioned examples would fall crumbling down if there are no significant, measurable benefits for their use in education. So, what can you expect by utilizing gamification in education, aside from making the whole process fun?
Gamification Promotes a State of “Flow”
The first benefit comes from psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who described the state of flow in 1990 in his book “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.” Flow is a really interesting phenomenon studied in positive psychology that captures people’s unique experiences while they’re deeply involved in a task. So much, that they might become completely oblivious of their surroundings including their own body. In practice, flow describes the moment when a professional climber is reaching Mount Everest or a chess player is playing their most important game. Most of us have experienced this kind of involvement in an activity that totally consumes us, and many authors believe those are the moments when creativity and innovation peak!
As we all know, games, more than anything else, have the power to induce a flow state in people, which is why using game elements in education might actually increase flow states while learning.
Gamification Increases Engagement
The second benefit follows from the first. It’s impossible to enter in a state of flow – increased creativity, innovation, and a unique problem-solving brain state, without being fully committed to the task. For these reasons, gamification is a really powerful tool for increasing engagement, making students more involved in their studies, and developing a passion for learning that translates to increased grades and better academic achievements overall.
Gamification Allows Students to Exercise Their Imagination
A lot of studies have addressed the association between games and the development of a child’s imagination in many different aspects, from learning and cognitive development, to a psychotherapeutic perspective. Imagination is crucial to students’ socio-emotional development as well as cognition. It allows children to create mental representations of objects and relations in their heads, so they can do operations without relying on concrete examples. This abstract ability underlines math skills, spatial skills, navigation, creative-problem solving, and innovation.
Gamification Boosts Confidence and Self-Worth
While not directly related to learning, gamification does increase self-confidence, which in turn can positively impact the students’ academic performance. The reasoning behind this is that in a game-like scenario, students get rewarded for their effort and transparently see their position on the leaderboard go up or receive more points, which affects how they see themselves. In this setting, the progress comes into focus, instead of end-results, especially if you have weekly leaderboards that show who made the most improvements that week instead of who was the best. The students who are the best won’t have so much room for improvement as those who struggled with the topic. Seeing this, average students will try harder.
Gamification Creates Attachment Toward Learning
The secret to success is to love what you do, whether that’s your career or educational journey. However, it’s in childhood that this love develops. It starts in the form of curiosity when children are as young as two years old. During these formative years, parents should stimulate children’s curiosity and expose them to different things. When children emerge in school, their curiosity will be the foundation on top of which the love toward learning can grow. But, not everyone comes into the classroom equally curious to learn. In fact, most students don’t know what they can be curious about. A game-like environment can stimulate their initial curiosity and promote attachment toward learning. This is why gamification is considered one of the best ways to engage students who show disinterest toward learning new things.
What Does Science Say About Gamification in Education?
Gamification is a brain-based approach because it uses the principles of operant conditioning – a fundamental method of learning identified by the American behaviorist B.F.Skinner. To learn more about the brain-based approach in teaching or the operant conditioning, follow the links included above.
If you have read our brain-based learning article, you already know that brain-based learning is a method for optimizing teaching practices based on how the brain works – knowledge backed by science.
For these reasons, gamification as part of the brain-based learning method family has been extensively studied. In fact, most of the principles on which gamification in education relies are clear application of the reinforcement learning theory for modifying behavior.
Several studies today, such as Craig Miller’s article about gamification in education, published in the journal Developments in Business Simulation and Experiential Learning in 2013, talk about enhanced learning through deep reinforcement learning computer models.
This tells us that the efficacy of gamification is not in question, but rather how to optimize it with advancements in theory and technology.
Specifically for schools and other educational institutions, a literature review presented at the International Conference on HCI in Business in 2014, identified the most common game elements used for educational purposes. These elements included points, levels/stages, badges, leaderboards, prizes, progress bars, storyline, and feedback.
In the next section, we’ll discuss how you can use these elements in your own classroom.
How To Use Gamification in the Classroom
There’s a long road from theory to practice, which usually includes a learning curve, trial and error, and a lot of adjustments until teachers find something that works for most students in different subjects. Additionally, teachers and homeschooling parents might struggle to begin gamifying the classroom. Where to begin and what should a gamified classroom be like?
While there are no limitations for this process as it’s very flexible and versatile, in addition, we’ll share the six most common ways educators use gamification in education. Hopefully, this will inspire you to try this approach yourself.
Play Educational Versions of Classic Old-School Games
One way to gamify the classroom is by playing educational versions of classic games, such as paying a scavenger hunt, bingo, matching games, speed geography, associations, and many other quizzes or puzzle-style games that can easily fit into the classroom’s environment and are flexible enough to be adjusted for different subjects. Best of all, all of the games mentioned above can be played individually, one-by-one, or in groups. Students can compete in groups and the best group should be rewarded with something valuable for the students.
Just make sure that you randomly select groups each time to prevent the formation of perceived “strong” versus “weak” groups.
Play Educational Games Through Digital Platforms
Another way to gamify the classroom is through online learning tools such as Kahoot! (linked above). This learning platform is the perfect example of gamification in education via digitalization. It allows the teacher to create questions with various different answering types (open questions, multiple-choice questions, etc), game-like music, progressive point scores, leaderboards, and badgest of the best performing students in each quizz.
Additionally, many platforms allow users to save their progress and even personalize their experience according to their preferences.
Use Reward Schemes and Leaderboards for Specific Units
Reward schemes and leaderboards are equally great tools for offline learning as well as online. They’re a powerful motivation because everyone wants to see their name on top and feel that sense of achievement and pride. You can buy a small blackboard and write down the five students who made the most effort or improvement with a small badge of honor (a tangible reward is also an option). However, be careful what you reward. It’s one thing to reward hard-work and totally another talent and results without effort. The latter might be counter-effective.
Use Badges in a Subject
Using badges is yet another extremely creative and clever way to design a reward scheme. When done properly, it’s a powerful motivating tool. But, what does it entail?
Let’s take Math as an example. How would you design a badge system? First, outline the progressive structure and point system. Then, assign badges with cool names such as Pitagora or Einstein for each level. Finally, think of rewards or privileges for the students who have achieved these levels.
An example of a powerful reward would be getting a one free-pass for not doing homework for those who have achieved Level Pitagora. Another motivation might be an exemption of the final exam for those who’ve achieved the highest level.
How do students progress from one level to another? This also depends on you, but typically each activity is worth a number of points. For instance, doing homework is worth 1 point, participating in extracurricular math activities is worth 5 points, tutoring a classmate is worth 5 points, doing bonus assignments at home is worth 2 or 3 points, and so on.
Gamify the Units’ Terminology
An important element in games is the specific terminology that players use inside their gaming world. This is why, gamifying the terminology of a subject might be an exciting way to change students’ perceptions about the subject and make it more appealing. For example, biology might be broken down into “Herbology,” “Learning about Living Creatures,” “Inspecting the Human Body,” “Inside the Animal Kingdom,” and so on. Names don’t really matter for internal use, so be creative!
Use Role-Playing Games for Debating
Have you heard of the YouTube sensation Rap Battles of History series that pits historical and pop culture figures against one another in a rap battle format? If not, check out the link.
The artists dress as public figures, use biographical knowledge, and have a word-fight in a musical way about each figure’s accomplishments. A good example is Eastern vs. Western Philosophers.
Something similar can be done in the classroom, where two students can read the work of opposing scientists and later debate in front of the class from the scientists’ perspective. The audience (other students in the classroom) might vote or choose which side was more convincing and why.
Before You Go
Gamification today is one of the dominant trends in many different areas of life including marketing, commerce, education, healthcare, and workspace management. The educational system also tries to catch up with the trend and hook students into the habit of learning new things daily. Is it possible?
Hopefully, our article gave you a clear answer. However, we should note that in all the hype surrounding gamification in education, there are studies showing the effect of gamification is dependent on the personality traits of the students. In other words, just like all the other approaches we’ve covered so far, they work great for some students and not so great for others. Is personalization the solution? Read more in our article about personalized learning, which you can find on our blog along with many other insightful guides.
Finally, don’t forget to visit our website and check out our high-quality worksheets, ready-to-use with just one click. It can save you time and help you engage students in yet another way.
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