How is gamification used in learning and education?

How is gamification used in learning and education?

23 Nov 2022

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Gamification is a prevalent learning method for improving engagement by incorporating game elements into an educational environment, and is an increasingly excellent tool for developing new skills and enhancing existing ones. This CPD article on how gamification is used in learning and education will look at different types of gamification and how they’re applied. We will also explore the advantages and disadvantages that using gamification has as an approach to learning for students.

What is gamification?

Gamification, game-based learning or play-based learning is when game like elements and principles are applied to non-gaming activities in order create a more engaging and enjoyable learning environment. Generally speaking, there are the two main types of gamification, Structural gamification and Content-based gamification.

With structural gamification, learning can have the physical form of a game, such as an educational app with a reward system, challenges and a time limit. The core aim being to encourage the learner to continue and do more even when successfully completing a challenge. However, not all gamified learning has to take the form of a game. Content-based gamification instead uses key elements of games such as a narrative with a problem to solve, a competition with prize, or feedback loops, for instance.

Why is gamification important in education?

Over the past several years, online and digital activities that require student interactivity are becoming more important due to the numerous benefits they provide both for students and instructors. From a young age we learn through play, testing, trialling until we uncover the best method and finally succeed. As we get older the element of play in our learning is lost and with that the enthusiasm for education decreases. The joy and creativity when learning new things, however, resurfaces when adapting features from games into education.

Gamification makes use of the brain’s natural knack for logic and problem solving, adding elements that make the process rewarding, which helps to aid learning. In addition, gamified content triggers the release of dopamine by adding game like elements to learning with clear and defined learning outcomes, encouraging learner engagement and retention. 

More people are now taking part in eLearning and other forms of digital learning as a way to make education as interactive and effective as in person classroom learning. Gamification has also become increasingly used as a way to improve both workplace skills training and enhance employee productivity.

Gamification can be a course-long endeavor, or it can be incorporated into individual activities to spark interest. In an educational context, content based gamification can improve the attention of learners by breaking up heavy context work e.g. seminars, lectures, pass papers, enabling learner's to acquire new skills and knowledge at their own pace, in a safe environment.

Using gamification to learn in the workplace

Examples of gamification in learning

Gamification is a useful technique to increase productivity and ultimately create a happier, more efficient work and study environment. A variation of traditional learning methods and gamification are ideal for securing higher levels of interest from students. There are a few different ways of implementing gamification within learning. A few common examples are outlined below:

Game-based learning

Game-based learning is a form of structural gamification and can be particularly effective. Educational games can include a story led problem solving game, or a timed quiz based e-learning game as an example. These types of gamification combine the structure of learning in education and the structure of games, encouraging healthy competition by allowing players to compete for the title of first place. The more correct answers you get, the higher your score. Instant rewards the player is given after each completed task increase their productivity as it leads them to feeling capable of doing more.

Educational games aim to break down work into smaller more manageable amounts so that the learning doesn’t become overwhelming. E-learning games include a number of key skills such as looking for patterns in data to find the solution, recalling info, communicating ideas, creativity, working under pressure, limited time period, looking for multiple approaches to solve issues.

Simulation style learning

Using game elements to create a scenario situation that prepares students for the real thing. Learners are able to practice without the fear of instant failure. The simulation experience gives them the opportunity to erase their mistakes and start again until reaching 100% success rate. For example, a classroom simulation would be useful for a teacher to test out multiple ways of delivering a lesson, pilots using a flight simulator when training to fly a plane.

A story-led life-saving game

A game which puts players under pressure in a critical situation to make fast decisions, encouraging them to think outside the box.

Benefits of gamification in education

There are many benefits of using gamification in education due to the high level of interactivity. These are just some ways that gamification in learning can help to boost student performance.

  • Encourages 100% achievement - Learning outcomes for courses and training will be to a high standard due to gamification as students are taught to revisit mistakes to be able to get to the next level of the game. Students will need to achieve 100% in order to move onto the next challenge.
  • Intrinsic motivation - Introducing a points based system, leadership boards and rewards for completing an educational task can motivate learners to want to succeed through competition.
  • Makes it easier for employers/ instructors to track student learning. Instructors can let individuals work towards real-time, measurable targets where they receive useful feedback instantaneously. Instant acknowledgement of small achievements encourages students to continue and creates a positive relationship between education and the learner.
  • The feeling of accomplishment - Certain types of simulation games are a great way to practice a skill whilst not having to worry about making mistakes. This provides more opportunities to amend their previous errors through second chances, rather than immediately deeming them as a fail as with other forms of education.
  • More engagement from learners - With a more traditional method of learning, gratification comes later as you don’t receive immediate feedback for new knowledge or skills learnt. With game-based learning, individuals will see their accomplishments more quickly by seeing these in the form of points and trophies. This encourages them to want to keep learning.
  • Keeps content exciting and new - By introducing new levels keeps students wanting to learn more to get to the next stage.
Student using game-based learning

Disadvantages of gamification in education

Although gamification can have its benefits in education, it also has its negative aspects, and in some cases can make education more difficult for the learner and the teacher. However, while gamification techniques are not without their challenges, it can be an effective supplement to other learning strategies. Some of the disadvantages include:

  • Ostracising students - Gamification may not meet the learning needs of all students. Auditory learners can struggle without spoken or audible instruction. Learners that struggle with literacy or who are English language learners (ELL) may not be able to read and follow directions.
  • Difficult to find the right balance - It can be difficult to find the right balance between game based learning and other traditional non-game learning methods. Similarly, if the game is too complicated, no one will really be motivated to participate. Conversely, if the game is too simple, students will get tired.
  • Decrease in attention span - Gamification mostly takes place in an online environment through electronic devices. An increase in screen time can lead to a decrease in attention span and can lead to unhealthy habits.
  • Expensive - The cost can be high to develop these educational games, although content- based learning can be an alternative to this.
  • Loss of interest - The limited options make gamification in the education setting minimal. With no variety of other learning methods, gamification learning can become repetitive and students may not feel as engaged.

The best way to use gamification is to embed the game elements into the course content so that students will think deeply about the material they are being taught. Always consider the learning outcomes you hope to achieve in gamifying your course. Do the mechanics you plan to include help to create an active learning environment, and do the activities you are asking students to participate in align with the learning objectives you have set out for them? Remember, while these materials may make a course more fun for students, the goal should always be to improve their learning.

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