Educational games have been sweeping across our screens in recent years, bringing learning to a wide audience in a medium that makes you feel like you’re having fun with education as a happy byproduct. Take Duolingo for example – how many of us would have decided to learn a new language in our spare time if it didn’t come in an exciting and competitive package?
However, it isn’t as simple as applying game principles to any form of learning and achieving great results. There are appropriate contexts and best practices that you need to consider before taking academics to the gaming sphere. We’re going to delve into these topics to help you get some insight into whether gamification is the right choice for your eLearning.
What is gamification?
Gamification is generally defined as using gaming mechanics in a non-game context. The gaming mechanics that you might use include points, leaderboards, badges, avatars, ranks, levels and competitiveness.
In eLearning, this means that students can earn badges, points and positions on a leaderboard as they complete their activities. The aim of this process is to extrinsically motivate the learners by adding a competitive element to their course. Have you ever been absolutely determined to pass a level so that you can make it to the number one position on a mobile gaming leaderboard? Well, the theory goes that it will function the same way in a gamified course. The points, badges and leaderboards will keep learners engaged and improve their information retention.
This has great potential to improve the learning experience for students and to show them that learning can be fun. But this potential hinges on using it in the right way.
Ideally, you shouldn’t be simply applying traditional gamification principles to learning – your students should be learning through games. Instead of just adding gamification elements to your course, develop your learning as a game and embed experiential learning opportunities in it. Branching scenarios, treasure hunts and virtual reality are examples that can be used as a game to practise skills.
As such, you need to ask yourself what you want to achieve through gamification. Is it the only tool in your arsenal to engage students or is it one of the tools that will supplement a course that already has great design elements? If you’re relying solely on gamification to ensure learner engagement and information retention, you’ve likely missed something in the design and delivery of your course. It should already have engaging content and design elements.
When the context is appropriate for learning games, you can use mechanics like a point system for instant feedback. These points can then contribute to a certain amount that passes the current level. Badges can give them a sense of accomplishment for achieving certain results, which may just motivate them to keep it up. Obviously, the competitiveness of gamification will kick start the extrinsic motivation as they try to be the best in their team, which acts as an additional incentive. These mechanics can also be used as eLearning benchmarks in the right context – for example, students may need to attain a certain badge to pass the chapter.
But gaming mechanics need to be chosen very carefully through detailed market research so that your chosen strategy will align with your student base. In its traditional form, gamification has been used for so long and it’s either a hit or a miss. Depending on your learner demographics, it will appeal to them more or less.
Ideal student base
If your typical student is an adult, you might need to reconsider how appropriate gamification would be for their learning. Imagine that your course will be going to C-level executives with many years of experience – would they be very fussed about earning points and badges? Most likely not.
On the other hand, young children and high school students could benefit greatly from gamification. Lister states that “today’s students are technology savvy and expect to be engaged.” If they’re notorious for blowing off their homework to play video games, it would make perfect sense that combining the two can produce positive outcomes. Younger students can benefit from the exciting and fun tones that Mulkeen suggests are “naturally and healthily addictive.”
If you use gamification to supplement eLearning that already has incredible design elements, it will be a specifically learner-focused teaching method that makes learning fun and exciting for children and highschoolers.
When you utilise gamification in the right student base, you can achieve great results. But it’s often a hit or miss scenario that needs you to carefully consider how the course is designed. Extrinsic motivation can elevate the learning experience and bring joy back into education, so there is definitely some merit to the concept. It is, however, essential to design and deliver your content well so that the game elements only supplement it.
This brings the focus back to who your learners are. You want to make the biggest impact possible with your learning, so honing in on your typical student base and their needs will guide your decisions. It’s therefore not only a decision on how to use gamification, but when. As students become savvy consumers of learning, they’ll choose the institution and course type that suits them best. It’s simply our responsibility to provide it.
Lister, M.C. (2015). Gamification: The Effect On Student Motivation And Performance At The Post-Secondary Level [online]. Accessed 10 June 2022.
Mulkeen, D. (2018). Gamification: The Key to Learner Engagement? [online]. Accessed 13 June 2022.
Pappas, C. (2014). The Science And Benefits Of Gamification In eLearning [online]. Accessed 13 June 2022.