Gamification in education, is it all positive?

The gaming industry is huge and continues to grow at a staggering rate. There is a simple reason for this: games are so much fun! This key aspect has led, in part, to an equally staggering rise – the growth in society of gamification.

Developers realised that the fun of games could be applied to traditionally mundane or boring learning activities. And that is how gamification was born.

Gamification applied to learn sailing a pirate ship.

Gamification is the application of elements of game design in contexts that would not normally be associated with games. It has become commonplace in many different situations and sectors, from recruitment to workplace training to school classrooms.

Games stimulate, engage and excite. Games also have the power to make even the most mundane things much more interesting From marketing to motivating people to improve their fitness and lead healthier lifestyles, gamification is used so widely now sometimes we don’t even realise this is the case.

But does this mean that video games are taking over our classrooms? What are the pros and cons of the rise in gamification? What are the possibilities it offers, or its potential problems?

Gamification in education

Gamification is perfect for education because it can make the learning experience highly engaging. And when learning is made accessible and fun it delivers excellent results.

The psychology of gamification is focused on the idea of ‘flow’. It is what makes a game entertaining and what compels a user to continue to play. Successful games combine attractive content with key elements that are conductive to a state of flow.

Key elements include giving clear rules and providing a mechanism that provides instant and ongoing feedback. Because of this, students can see how well they are doing and how their performance rates with others. In this context, the competitive nature is a clear motivator. Rewards are given too. This can range from unlocking new levels to earning badges or clothing for your chosen avatar. The ‘flow’ is maintained by ensuring that things do not become too predictable, with surprise elements that peek curiosity

There are a plethora of apps and software available that ‘gamify’ learning. Socrative is one of the most widely used on the market. Focusing on engaging students, the software can be used to initiate a vast selection of games, exercises and quizzes. Once a student has logged into the ‘room’ the teacher can interact and set the direction of the learning. Feedback is instant and lessons can become more interactive and fun. Software such as this certainly increases engagement for students.

Some teachers are being even more creative in the ways they are exploring the potential that gamification offers in the classroom. In this TED Talk Biology teacher, Paul Andersen boldly claims: ‘My classroom is a video game’. The story he tells of how he sought to tap into his pupils’ innate love of games is a fascinating one.

Games teach you that failure is simply part of a game. You expect to fail several times before you progress to the next level. It can be frustrating, but gamers don’t give up. The message is an important one. In schools, failure is stigmatised. Andersen has created an environment where failure is accepted as being simply part of the process of learning. Andersen has incorporated key gamification elements: students collect ‘experience points’ as they progress and can see how they are doing against their peers on a class leaderboard.

Are there any negatives to gamification in education?

For the simple fact that gamification creates an engaging learning environment that young people will be comfortable with, it’s obvious that it will be beneficial. Tapping into the world of video games – a world that so many children are absorbed and immersed in – is always going to be successful.

But are there any drawbacks? Well, nothing is perfect, of course. For schools (and parents) gamified learning software can be expensive, and there are associated training costs to consider for schools too.

Although the fast pace and instant feedback that gamification apps offer is one of their key benefits, there is also the danger that students could come to expect it all the time. Critics suggest that gamification might not be helpful with student attention span. There is also a potential issue with matching the games played on apps with the actual tests and assessments that students will actually take. Most apps track students’ progress but how reliable this will be in relation to live tests will vary.

Nobody is suggesting that gamification should completely take over education, but it is clearly an approach that can be extremely beneficial in developing children’s learning.