Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

3 Things about #Gamification of Education and Training – So True

Gamification isn’t just adding points, badges and terms onto the current curriculum. 3 Things I Wish Everyone Knew about Gamification from Remixing College English made good points about gamification for education and training. It’s an excellent article, you could follow the blog if you are serious about transforming your course through leveraging the ideas from gaming.


#1: Schooling is already a (poorly-designed) game

I’ve argued this before. The students know this. Some educators know it or suspect it, but either believe there’s nothing they can do about it or don’t care enough to do something about it. Some educators are incapable of understanding the fact that they are playing a game because they can play the game so well; they are, as a result, often bewildered by those who can’t or won’t play the game or who want to change the game because, as far as they’re concerned, “this is not a game!” (how often have you heard an educator say that?).

Why do we continue to play such a poorly-designed game? Why do we continue to force our children and young adults to play this game? Even those who learn to play it well gain nothing from the game.

If schooling is already a game, then why not redesign it to be a better game?

In “Everything Is Game Design,” Elizabeth Sampat reminds us that just because something is a game doesn’t mean that it’s a good game; you can integrate all of the shiny, expensive, sophisticated components you can think of, “[b]ut if you don’t tie that stuff to the end experience of the player, you’re not going to have good design.” The reason why schooling is such a poorly-designed game is that the end experience of the player is not the primary focus of modern schooling. We continue to throw new, expensive, sophisticated pedagogical “tools” and theories into the existing game, while ignoring the players.

#2: It’s not a magic band-aid

Learning how to apply the principles of gamification and methods of games-based learning effectively is not easy. Designing a class as a well-designed game is extremely difficult and time-consuming on the educator’s part. Playing a well-designed game is difficult and may be time-consuming on the part of the student. Too often, gamification is used as a band-aid, a quick-fix applied on top of a poorly-designed game. As Sampat argues:

Instead of trying to stick a crappy, half-formed game onto real life, the real challenge— the one that’s tough, the one that will bring the greatest results— is to fix the bad game design that’s all around us. Finding the reward structures and the rules that are already in place, and figuring out how to make them more effective, is the key to making life better for everyone— not adding an additional layer of uninspiring mechanics that push us to engage with mechanics that already suck.

I think that every educator should have some grounding in game design before they attempt to integrate gamification or games-based learning into a classroom. After all, those video games that keep our kids so enthralled for hours at a time are not built in a day or even a week and they are often designed, created, tested, and debugged by an entire team of people with game design experience and expertise. While applying game design principles to a class need not and, indeed, cannot be that complicated, we can and should borrow some of the design practices from those who know how to effectively design games.

According to Lee Sheldon’s The Multiplayer Classroom, game designers typically use the Agile Development Model, which looks like this:


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

While it’s a complicated-looking model, it’s primary objective is pretty straightforward: “Iterate, iterate, iterate.” During the design process, you must constantly evaluate the game in terms of the primary objective (where you want your students to end up in terms of learning) and how effectively the game is guiding players towards that objective. In order to help you determine the last bit, you can use the Octalysis framework:

gamification of education

Model by Yu-kai Chou via Gamifeye

As the creator of the model, Yu-kai Chou, points out, different components of gamification can be used to either inspire or manipulate. If your goal is to inspire (as is, or should be, every educator’s goal), then you should lean more heavily towards the upper left quadrant, or white hat side, of the model. This quadrant favors ownership, accomplishment, meaning, and empowerment.

In addition to constantly evaluating the game throughout the design and creation process, you need to also be flexible during the gameplay, adjusting the mechanics and objectives to meet the needs of your students. And you must be willing to conduct a post-mortem after each iteration of the game and make the necessary changes in order to improve the game’s design. This may (and probably should) involve asking the game players for feedback. Here are screenshots of one part of the post-mortem for my Spring FYC II class:

FYC II roleplay feedback

FYC II Second Life feedback

#3: It’s not about points

Far too often, non-gamers and sceptics of gamification and games-based learning assume that gameplay is all about extrinsic motivation: points, badges, leader boards, prizes, etc. But, as I’ve pointed out before, no amount of points can keep someone engaged in a bad game. One of the reasons why schooling is such a poorly-designed game is because it focuses too heavily on the ultimate extrinsic motivator: grades. Remember the characteristics of the white hat quadrant of Chou’s Octalysis model? Accomplishment is only one component of inspiring game design and points are only one of many mechanics that can be used to demonstrate accomplishment. The best games use multiple methods for measuring and reporting accomplishment. Simply switching from letter grades to badges does not equate with increased engagement; it’s merely exchanging one game mechanic for another. If neither the grades nor the badges are linked to a more important factor within the game and the player’s end experience, then both are equally bad design. Remember, gamification and games-based learning are about applying all of what we know works in the best designed games, not cherry picking magic band-aids and sticking them on an obsolete game in the hopes of encouraging players to have one more go at it.

Okay, so obviously it would take more than ten minutes to say all of this. That’s my problem and, ultimately, the problem with gamification and games-based learning: it’s not easy, quick, or efficient. Like the most well-designed games, applying game design principles to the classroom is difficult, time-consuming, and challenging. But, as many game designers argue and hard-core gamers know, without a struggle, the pay-off is not nearly as rewarding.

Note : The blog content is licensed under CC BY.


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10 Responses »

  1. Hey thx for sharing such true facts. Concerning #1: Have you read the “Learning Paradigm College” by John Tagg? In this book, Tagg describes school as most of us know it and calls it the “Instruction Paradigm” being evaluation-, teacher- and credit hour-focused. He also writes that most of the time there are innovations, people stay within the Instruction Paradigm because they cannot think of a learning environment without evaluation- and credit hour-focus.
    Concerning #2 I want to add that direct reward is not the most important. As Tagg writes, guidance is needed before and feedback is needed while learning. Feedback tells you if you understood the guide and how you can get better. Getting better at something that is meaningful to you is a reward itself. So the point I want to make here is that rewards can even make it worse if they are tied to grades as they amplify the (wrong) grade focus and kill every feedback then. You write it in #3, too. Great!
    So you used Second life for your course/class? Can you tell me more about it?
    May the force be with you,

  2. Hey! Thanks for sharing about my work. Love what you’re doing with the site! Keep up the good stuff!


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“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
"I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create digital tutors that are as effective as personal tutors, educational software as compelling as the best video game," President Barack Obama said while touring a tech-focused Boston school (year 2011).
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