The Gamification of Education

What can video games teach us about education?

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I asked a group this week why they play video games.  (We are starting a mini marketing project looking at persuasive techniques in advertisements).  When the discussion was over they agreed on 5 areas that make gaming appealing to them.

  1. It’s Social – They play with friends and against them
  2. It’s Open – Linear, story based games are less popular than open games where the player dictates what happens
  3. Achievements are Public – Leaderboards, rankings, trophies and creations are visible to the whole world
  4. Immersive Escapism – They can spend a few hours saving the world through the eyes of a space marine or rescuing a Princess from some pipes as a plumber
  5. Instant Feedback – They know instantly whether they have completed a level and what they need to do differently if they didn’t.

I’m a gamer myself and it led me to question the nature of things we do within games:

Why will a gamer spend hours performing repetitive and monotonous tasks in a game but some learners hate learning spellings?  Why will a Minecrafter act on the feedback of peers hundreds of times to constantly improve a creation but learners struggle to redraft?  Why do gamers love leaderboards but classrooms shy away from them?

The more I dug into it the more I came to realise that gaming is learning.  It may not be the learning that we want our students to do.  It may have no benefit to them whatsoever in terms of qualifications or bettering their life chances on paper.  But they are learning.  They are identifying a set of skills that require improvement and working on their development over a period of time.  And this learning is more effective at holding the attention and motivation of our students than we are.

What would Gamified Education look like?  The more I looked at the experiences offered to our students, the more I realised that the best practice is already Gamified in the same areas my group had identified.

Gamified Social Learning (GSL) – Students will get heaps of social interaction at school.  Not all of it would count as GSL. Structuring talk within lessons is obviously the first thing that springs to mind.  Talk partners, Kagan seating plans and peer feedback all provide opportunities for students to talk about learning but it isn’t really GSL  Instead we should look to provide online discussion forums, run a department Twitter account, allow time to read and respond to comments on blog posts or even just allow students a space where they can assemble with peers to talk about learning.  GSL shouldn’t happen all the time, but if it isn’t happening at all we must look at why.

Gamified Objectives (GO’s) – How often do we show our students an end point but leave the journey towards it entirely up to them?  Open gaming does exactly this; a student is given an objective (complete this mission, reach this point, build this structure) but leaves the journey up to them.  Sometimes games just present the student with an environment to explore and they create their own objectives.  Reverse engineering of a finished article may lead to multiple routes being followed by different students and may pose different risks and challenges for teachers.  Being the “guide on the side not the sage on the stage” may be daunting but if gaming teaches us anything, it is that control of how an end point is reached is fundamental.

Gamified Feedback (GF) – How often do we give feedback to our students?  Once a week, the next lesson, the next day?  Gaming works because it is instant.  Imagine a game that only told you whether you had completed a level the next day.  The gamer works in the “now”!  Tomorrow is too late.  If this is to be followed then verbal and peer feedback is most beneficial.  Is the best feedback the stuff you write in books or the comments you make while circulating a class?  Which is acted on most effectively?  Feedback needs to be given often and instantly.  That is not to say gamers will not act on feedback overtime.  Minecrafters often post their creations online and act on the feedback of peers over time to improve their creation.  Perhaps this is why the blogging of work is so effective as a feedback medium.

Gamified Rewards (GR’s) – No, not just sticking a badge or Level Up on it.  Rewards must be worth the effort needed to achieve them.  Minecrafters will spend a seemingly disproportionate amount of time mining through blocks of cobblestone in search of a diamond but they know that the diamond is the key to unlocking other features of the game.  The reward justifies the effort.  So we must ask ourselves if our rewards justify the effort.  Why should a student spend hours learning spellings or times tables?  Of course we know the answer.  But do our students share our appreciation of it?  We must, therefore, ask ourselves how much time, effort and funding we apportion to the management of behaviour?  Now how much is allocated to rewarding learning?  Is a sticker worth the effort?

Gamified Immersion (GI) – Games allow an escape from reality.  What if we made that escape leap to the classroom (even if it is a “Genuine Fake” – @HYWEL_ROBERTS)?  Do we display students artwork or do we hold a gallery event open to parents?  A simple blog may provide the “real” audience to imagineered scenarios.  Go the extra mile.  Set up a fake text launching the end product (This shark needs freeing from this pool.  The RSPCA want us to work out how).  Immerse the students in the scenario and allow them to escape the classroom without ever leaving it.

Above all, gamers are free to “fail”.  By failing they learn, they research and they grow!  If a gamer can’t proceed, they experiment, they search for answers, they ask peers for advice and they act on what they find.  Isn’t this what we want from our learners?  Gaming has been doing it for decades so maybe we should look outside the box for inspiration.  Now all we need is a multi billion pound marketing behemoth and the sky’s the limit.

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