Gamification of Learning: Part 2

Part 2: The Elements of Gamification

Click for examplesIn our first post we explored a little bit about the importance of games historically and their relationship to learning. The Nobel Prize website has some wonderful educational games and videos that might give you an idea of some well-designed and educationally challenging gaming examples.

The gamification of education is more about the elements of games than the game itself. In other words, when you analyze a game that you really are addicted to or really liked as a child, what made it fun? What made you return to play the game more than once? What was the challenge? What was it that hooked you? When we talk about the gamification of learning, we’re going to be talking about the game design principles and interactive elements that we might want to include in our classes to enhance or transform the educational experience. Karl Kapp writes that “Game-based learning can turn disconnected, bored learners into engaged participants.”

Click to read postFirst of all, let’s be clear. Has everyone drunk the gaming cool-aide? Does everyone think that gamification is a good idea? Absolutely not! You might want to read Jeff Watson’s “Gamification: Don’t say it, don’t do it, just stop” to see another side of the gamification issue. I think though, before you fold up your arms and say, you don’t have to follow this new educational flavor-of-the-week trend, you should understand it. In other words, as I always told my kids, say ‘no’ to dancing because you don’t want to dance, not because you don’t know how to dance. Ready to jump in and learn more about gamification?

Here is a simple guide to some aspects of games that can apply to education. More details can be found in Kapp’s book The Gamification of Learning and Instruction and his collaboratively authored book Gamification of Learning and Instruction Fieldbook.

Rules: All games have rules. In the educational environment these rules will tie to your learning objectives. These rules lead students to the desired learning. Effectively, the rules guide students to the learning objectives. There are also rules of engagement which may include behavioral norms and boundaries. These rules will guide students to understanding what behaviors are permitted and which will not be tolerated.

For the Win: All games have a purpose or a reason for playing. Whether the goal of the game is to score 100 points, or rescue the princess, or get 3 x’s in a row, games have a clearly defined win. Gamers refer to this as FTW (for the win). In education we call these our objectives or sometimes they are a set of skills that students must attain.

Motivation: Not all game players play games for the same reason. Richard Bartle has described the four main player types based on their motivation for engaging in play. There are “Achievers” who want to win. These are your students who will rise to a challenge and do best when they can see how other players are doing. They like to be number one. There are “Socializers” who will stop to help another player. These are your students who share ideas and links and comments with other students. These are those students who make teams operate more smoothly. There are “Explorers” who love to discover the clues. These students will create new content, finding links to share with the class. They will go out of their way to bring new information or uncover new data.They click everywhere just in case you’ve hidden information someplace. Finally, there are the “Killers” who will cheat or hack their way through the game. These students like to take short-cuts and do whatever it takes to finish or complete the assignment. They don’t particularly care how other students are doing, they enjoy stepping over others on their way up. In fact, often, for the “killer” it isn’t about winning, it is about making others lose.

Skill Levels: Most games have very easy entry levels to teach the game and the rules to novice players. You do not want to discourage people from playing your game. However, as much as you want to attract and retain these novice players, you also want to challenge players who understand the game and the environment. In education we refer to this as differentiated instruction. Keeping your top learners engaged without disenfranchising those who need more support.

Challenges: Games are all about challenges, or obstacles to overcome. They are all about the story. Fulfill the quest, save the princess and kill the dragon along the way. Research has shown that facts are learned better when they are embedded into a story rather than delivered as a bulleted list. But, the story should be simple and make sense and be relevant to the learning. One of the biggest mistakes that educational games make is to create a storyline that overpowers the learning or obscures the learning.

Learn from Failure: Gamers often lose, yet they usually jump right back into the game and try again. Built into failure is a strong incentive to try again. In games you learn from your mistakes. There may be a fine line between frustration and fun, but failure itself rarely makes a person quit play and rather often acts as a strong incentive to try again.

Scoring: Whether we’re talking about badges, points, or leader boards, games usually have a powerful build-in incentives to reward players. Often, these points, or badges accumulate throughout the game, much like a student’s points add up to a final grade at the end of the semester. In some social games, users are sent an email with digital awards letting the player know they’ve met a milestone.

Timing: Games usually have specified ending that is tangible and achievable. Often a progress bar will denote how much time or how many challenges you have yet to complete. With games, it often takes many attempts or many failures to achieve success. Failure is not considered a bad event, it is just part of the learning process. One notable characteristic described by gamers is getting lost in the game and losing a sense of time. They describe themselves as immersed or absorbed totally in the game. That’s a description that every educator would love students to be remarking about their content. Time can also be used as a reward or incentive to keep engaged. When reaching a certain level, the player or student is rewarded with additional time to continue the play.

Feedback: Built into almost every game is feedback. When a character encounters a challenge and makes the wrong choice, something happens and the player learns from that feedback to avoid that situation in the future. Feedback is usually a powerful incentive to try again and learn from the mistakes of previous attempts. Rewards are feedback. Grades are feedback. Attaching immediate feedback to actions is pivotal to keeping engagement alive.

Fun: Fun is important but should not drive the decision to gamify education. Most games and most learning can be designed and delivered to be both fun and engaging. A big mistake, however, is to be so consumed with the element of fun that the element of learning is forgotten. Always remember what the educational goals are that are trying to be met and don’t allow the game aspects to obscure those learning objectives.

istock photo credit: nickpo