Gamification is the name given to the process of developing motivation and engagement by rewarding people with things that they want, and it often takes the form of points, acknowledgement of achievement, badges, prizes, and so on. You complete certain milestones and you are rewarded with something you want, something that is meaningful and engaging to you. The rise of computer gaming culture has meant that more and more research has gone into finding out what features make games so addictive for some people. The trend of gamification is really about how to reward, motivate, and engage people in learning.
Elements of gamification have been with education ever since teachers started giving out grades or stickers. But these are a very crude form of gamification, and we’re seeing a trend towards more widespread use; there’s a growing awareness of how effective and sophisticated gamification can be. Accessto mobile devices in the classroom also allows us to harness the power of computers to do two things:
- support us in the tracking and recording of progress
- support us in the ways we enable learners to control more of the process themselves.
We’re getting more and more research on motivation in learning, and it’s really important for us, as educators, to know what leads to motivation. The real power of gamification comes through using it to help learners move from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation. One of the things that drives intrinsic motivation is mastery, or the ability to do something well, and gamification can help learners build mastery through rewarding specific actions.
Game designers use things called reward schedules to keep people engaged, and these are linked to evolution. Research shows that the kinds of rewards that are commonly associated with gamification — unlocking the next level, gathering points, getting the answer correct — also release dopamine. And this is one of the things that make computer games so addictive.
There are a number of features of gamification that we can use in learning:
- Firstly, every action should be rewarded, particularly effort — if we’re interested in encouraging the journey as well as the finished product we should find ways to reward effort.
- Secondly, feedback is vital — connect kids up to an adaptive learning platform that allows them to complete the task and receive frequent, specific feedback. Let the machine do that low-level stuff so you can focus on higher-level, qualitative feedback. Sites like Quizlet, Khan academy, Mathletics, or Sumdog fit neatly into this category.
- Thirdly, in the design of learning there should be multiple long and short-term goals. While the big goal might be to pass a particular assessment, gamification suggests we should be providing a range of short-term goals to scaffold our learners towards those goals. And, the wider the variety linked to that overall goal, the more interesting it will be.
- A fourth element of gamification is an awareness of the lifecycle a player goes through in a game, and there’s another big opportunity for us as educators here. There are generally three stages: newbies, regulars, and enthusiasts. Think about each of these roles within learning, and also about how you can make use of and support each of these roles. How are you stretching the enthusiasts? How are you supporting the regulars? How can you make use of the challenges newbies face to tap into the expertise of the enthusiasts?
A good example of gamification for teachers is what we’ve begun to offer at CORE. He Tohu Oranga are a set of visual and digital representations of skill, knowledge, competencies, and achievement that evidence progression of learning. So when you complete a free online webinar, or attend a conference, or engage in a 20-week CORE Empower programme, you can choose to receive a badge that shows you’ve been part of that event. It’s a marker that you have some experience, and if you like, an invitation to help and support others in these areas.
As you are offering multiple means of motivation and engagement, think about aligning learning to the principles of gamification:
- What’s your reward schedule?
- How long should a learner go without being rewarded?
- How can you allow learners to be challenged at a level that is right for them or to find what they are looking for in the material you’re exploring?
- How do you reward every action, even if it is an unsuccessful attempt, because, after all, it’s the fostering of a growth mindset — one that can cope with and learn from failure — that we’re aiming for.
And, if it’s good enough for our learners, think also about teacher learning:
- How do we allow teachers to find their own rewards in professional learning?
- How do we reward every action?
- How do we convene teams of newbies, regulars and enthusiasts to make powerful learning.
In gaming, there is often a thing called an epic win — an outcome that is so extraordinarily positive that you almost don’t believe you can achieve it. If we can build on this trend of gamification we might get to the educational version of an epic win: Learning that’s so engaging and addictive that we can’t stop learners from doing it.
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