Gamification and E-Learning (Part 1)


When thinking of games in the context of learning, the conventional pedagogue might shutter. Games are for children! Students are learning so they might find their place in the adult world. If games were used in education at all, they were considered to be part of a “break” in learning, that is, students were given time to release excess energy and/or re-focus their thoughts for additional learning. Games were considered an external tool to facilitate learning, not a part of the learning process.

Yet gamification existed even in the traditional framework. How is that? Well let’s remember growing up . . . First, at one time during our early school days, we did a particular assignment well. Yea! We get a gold star. Second, during summer reading programs, readers would get a check next to every book read, and if enough books were read by summer’s end, he or she would get a prize. Third, in large college classes—before the era of privacy—professors would post exam grades, and students with excellent grades would be afforded social status. One can come up with other examples, but the above should serve to make the point.

Advances in technology have driven gamification, and home computing and the Internet have been the most important elements of this evolution. In addition, changes in educational philosophy, based on a large body of research, have pushed gamification into educational practice. So let’s look at the basics.


A. Definition

While noting above that “gamification” existed in earlier eras, the term generally refers to the conscious decision to employ the concepts, motivations, and techniques of games into non-game venues. Such venues could be in employment productivity, marketing, but especially into education. In this context, gamification is not thought of as a respite from the “serious” work of education but an essential part of comprehension, retention, and application of knowledge. There have been a range of critiques on gamification, but it has generally been accepted and is increasing being employed as an important element if not the central element of most educational enterprises. (TABLE)

B. Gamification Elements

Games constitute systems that are governed the rules and tools of the game. Each system is based on a combination of chance, skill, and/or strategy with an overall goal ranging from simple completion to a competitive success. Games—and gamification—are so engaging due to various factors that can be broken down into rewards versus other elements. Regarding rewards, gamification designers will draw upon natural human tendencies toward achievement (intrinsic) or social status and/or tangible rewards (extrinsic). Related to rewards, albeit separate, are other natural human tendencies toward competition, human inquisitiveness, and socialization. Separate from notions of reward are others such as altruism, engaging narratives, and self-expression. Gamification in learning employs these elements to increase attention span and motivation toward the overall capacity for knowledge comprehension, retention, and application. (APPLE)

C. Participants

Gamification can be employed in three different contexts: solitary, competitive, and team building. Each one has it’s own value, though they can be employed separately or together depending upon the nature of the subject and organizational goals.

Lets come up with a simple educational goal: remembering an information set. This seems simple, but the challenge can come from the size of the set and whether or not set contents are ostensibly related. Gamification designers can develop tools assisting participants to do this as solitary individuals, competitively, or with a team. One can employ rewards for the individual or team or use an interesting narrative and/or mnemonics to enhance recall. (PENCIL)

Next week we will continue our discussion on gamification and will move into more subtle and cutting edge elements. I strongly encourage readers to send in memorable anecdotes about their educational experiences that relate to this subject. We will be sure to highlight them at the onset of the blog.

Oh, by the way, without looking, do you remember the three capitalized words at the end of each sub-section.  It was an attempt to draw you into a game that might pique your interest as one might in gamification. To facilitate learning such non-sequitors, one can visually situate the objects: imagine a table with a single apple and pencil on it, nothing else. Remembering that visual image is far easier than remembering three random words. See you next week!

Craig Lee Keller, Ph.D., JAG Learning Strategist

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