A lot has been said about gamification for learning. While it may all seem like another round of fun and games (which is a part of it), why should you gamify your lesson content for your kids at all?
In our quest (Hey, life IS a game!) to help our young learners improve, research has proven that gamification can be an effective tool to promote understanding and memory of concepts or skills. But while the general consensus is that gamification can be applied to a broad variety of fields and learners across different ages, what can it hold for us as educators of young minds?
What Is It?
Sebastian Deterding and his colleagues defined gamification as “the use of game design elements in non-gaming contexts”. While the term has only been coined in the past decade, the concept of adding elements of fun and competition to routine activities is not new. Yes. I’m thinking of rounds of ‘how fast you can do the dishes’ in a week to quiet games (which in hindsight, probably had more to do with my parents’ sanity than my entertainment).
Understanding Game Mechanics
Gamifying subject content involves the incorporation of different game mechanics into the subject matter. Here are some characteristics of gamified content:
- Immediate feedback
Players are notified immediately of their performance, i.e. win/ lose, if they’ve achieved a new level. Every time a player performs a task successfully, they might be informed immediately through a notification on their screen, encouraging audio messages, etc.
Players have the freedom to create their persona in terms of the game; e.g. avatars, outfits for characters. These personas may have a progression pattern, such as more elaborate outfits, skills learned, etc.
If a game is used in a group, e.g. a classroom, personalization can offer the player an avenue of self-expression alongside other players that are achieving similar goals.
Players are given milestones to achieve or tasks to complete in order to fulfil a particular purpose. The player is made aware of what is valuable and required in terms of this game. Missions and challenges might be included for variety.
Goals can be used as a form of motivation, such as the collection of points to qualify for rewards, or even to encourage consistency, e.g. a daily challenge to lead players to learn a new word a day, which encourages them to use said program on a daily basis.
If you’re looking to get proficient in coding languages such as Python, you can even find programs that provide a collection of bite-sized tutorials that you can complete, from using string methods to make text into lowercase to understanding logic expressions.
Goals are arranged throughout the course of the game in terms of progression, which brings us to our next point.
Gamified content is designed to make a player aware of a clear progression path of how he or she can progress in the game; e.g. levelling up, increasing their skill set, etc. This builds anticipation, and the player can look forward to growth.
If the aim of a game is to have a player acquire and then demonstrate a skill, for example: spelling a word, then the progression can be from spelling two-syllable words to three-syllable words, and so on.
Some language learning materials today have adopted progression in their context, introducing learners to a small selection of words in the target language by listening before leading them to identify how those words are written.
- 3Cs – Competition, Collaboration, Community
Competition: Players are conscious of other players in the environment and are motivated to achieve in terms of the performance of others.
Collaboration: Players achieve their goals with the help of other players, e.g. contributing gifts to other players or cooperate with other players on a similar goal and both get rewarded
Community: Players have an awareness that there is a group of others engaging in this shared activity, creating a shared experience. This group can transcend physical and geographical distance.
The 3Cs are common in gamified programs/ applications that encourage the learning of a skill in a shared setting, e.g. a classroom. In the learning context, positive competition and shared experiences can act as catalysts to an individual’s learning and growth.
If you’re looking to guide your learners to pick up a particular set of skills, you might want to look at harnessing the power of healthy competition in getting them to learn something in a shorter time than they would alone!
Gamification is a relatively new field, so the current research still has a long way to go. Gamification can be helpful in stimulating learners to take to a new topic/ skill, but note that it may not be a substitute for intrinsic motivation, i.e. participating in an activity for its own sake.
As educators, be mindful of the design of the gamification tools that you use, and select tools that not only spur your learners to achieve rewards, but to find meaning in said activity, which ultimately contributes towards long-term behavior change.