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If you have ever received a stamp on a loyalty card with your favorite coffee house, bookshop or grocery store, collected miles on a frequent flyer program, walked a few extra rounds around the block to meet your steps goal for the day or scrolled repeatedly on your social media feed, you have officially entered the world of gamification! 

When game mechanisms are applied in non-gaming environments with the goal of enhancing processes and participants’ experience, gamification is at play. By applying the act of playing a video game to everyday functions, game elements are used to make routine activities more enjoyable, where users are motivated by the engagement levels and entertainment values of the game.

Gamification is an emerging trend in many sectors, including business, organizational management, in-service training, health, social policy, and education. It is used as a driver to promote learning, employee performance, customer engagement, and even crowdsourcing initiatives. The widespread interest in gamification lies in its potential to strengthen engagement, change behaviors, and support innovation.

In a K-12 Learning Context

The What?

Gamification in education incorporates game design elements and gaming experiences in the design of learning processes with the aim of motivating  students, by maximizing enjoyment and engagement through capturing the interest of learners and inspiring them to continue learning.

The Why?

The growing popularity of gamification stems from the belief in its potential to foster motivation, behavioral changes, friendly competition and collaboration in education. Research has shown that creating a game like atmosphere in a classroom with points and leaderboards increases student engagement in classrooms. The same concept can be applied using sophisticated learning technology for the gamification of learning.

The How?

Motivation is among the important predictors of student academic achievements, which influences the effort and time a student spends engaged in learning. As games enhance motivation and engagement, incorporating game mechanics and principles to motivate learners seems a natural extension of the concept. Gamified learning techniques have emerged as a promising area of imparting education. This innovative learning approach addresses the need for interactive and collaborative education by applying game design strategies to deliver an immersive learning experience to students. 

In addition, the fun aspect of gamification will encourage future generations of students to improve their technological skills as well as encourage public-private collaboration in the investment or design of gamified curriculums.

Elements of Gamification

Gamification can be broken down into individual elements, each with advantages and disadvantages to educational processes. These include  triggering greater engagement through their internal design, fostering student engagement, and ultimately creating an environment of intense focus, or “flow”  that stimulates learning and retention of information. 

Elements of Gamification

In education, flow can be achieved at both the basic educational and skill-based levels. However, achieving flow is challenging in a classroom settings where students can get distracted easily. Gamification helps establish flow by presenting students with a novel experience, breaking out of routines with a series of tasks that are engaging enough to prevent students’ minds from wandering. Flow is both a technique of gamification and, due to the increased focus of students on the educational material, one of its objectives.

Gamification is on the cutting edge of innovation in an ever-changing education system, and arguably, here to stay. Where digital tablets offer an efficient and cost-effective means of disseminating information and computer algorithms offer instant feedback, game-based motivations can offer increased engagement and focus, allowing educational systems to better utilize teaching contact time for improving student outcomes. It’s up to us, as educators, to harness the possibilities provided by digital learning to make gamification a powerful learning tool, with the goal of creating meaningful and impactful educational experiences for students that motivate them, keep them engaged and foster a love of learning.




Four Freedoms of Play

The primary advantage of gamification are that it encourages what Scot Osterweil, Creative Director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Education Arcade, calls the “four freedoms of play”.

The freedom to fail: games allow mistakes to be made with little consequence; 

The freedom to experiment: games allow players to explore and discover new strategies and pieces of information; 

The freedom to assume different identities: games encourage players to see problems from a different perspective 

The freedom of effort: games allow players to go through periods of intense activity and relative inactivity, so that players can pause and reflect on tasks they have accomplished.

Enhancing Teaching

Another advantage of gamification is that it automates many tasks that would otherwise fall upon the teacher, freeing up precious contact time to focus on addressing any learning challenges faced by students. For example, rather than a series of quizzes and tests taken in class that requires a teacher to manually grade each, a gamified course can automatically evaluate questions that have definite answers. This allows the student to practice on the device, and when in the class with a real teacher, time can be devoted to more difficult issues that cannot be addressed by software.

Personalized Learning

One of the most crucial ways in which gamification can serve the educational process is by offering a cost-effective way for school systems to personalize the learning process. It is generally accepted among educational specialists that smaller class sizes lead to higher student achievement. In a gamified environment, the student, by choosing the pace of learning (through an incremental progression system and a freedom of effort) or the area of learning (with a freedom to experiment), tailors the educational agenda to his or her own preferences. This has the effect of simulating a class size of one student, allowing school to offer the benefits of small class sizes without hiring additional teachers.

Gamification should not, however, be viewed as an all-encompassing solution, as it can lead to a less than conducive learning environment if misused, or deployed without enough attention to process, a thorough basis in pedagogy and testing.

Distraction from Learning 

Gamification works by providing alternate pathways to learning, designing a system in which the pursuit of a game-based goal, such as points or badges, is accomplished through learning. This technique works by aligning the objective of the student (points) with the objective of the teacher (the educational material). However, if the course is poorly designed students may discover a path to their game objective that does not require learning. Gamifying education can therefore redirect attention from a student that would otherwise have gone to the subject matter and transfer it into discovering enough loopholes in the game to succeed more easily.

Social Tension 

Team-based video games tend to have a solo ‘onboarding’ system that allows a player to learn the game before playing with anyone else, where the new player’s mistakes might hurt the veteran player’s ranking. This permits the player the freedom to fail before triggering any social responsibility. While games have foreseen the social dynamics in cooperative games, classroom exercises often neglect to do so. Group exercises can be a powerful tool at encouraging learning and teamwork. But group activities also generate challenges, such as when an entire team receives the same grade despite some members of the group contributing more than others. When poorly executed, gamification can therefore create strains in the classroom and inhibit learning.

Extrinsic Rewards 

Perhaps the largest risk with gamification is that it prioritizes extrinsic rewards over intrinsic rewards. If learning is distilled simply into a basic search for points, badges, or levels, this may de-emphasize the personal gratification and sense of accomplishment that is results from learning a new skill. This can be a serious impediment to learning, especially as one of the fundamental goals of education is to create a lifelong love of learning that will lead to continued self-directed learning. In the attempt to increase the time students devote to study in the short-term, gamification may reduce the long-term drive for education.

Joseph Nettikaden, CFO, Esol Education

Dr. Nettikaden is responsible for setting the technology vision and strategy for Esol Education, overseeing the integration of technology into Esol schools' curricula, with a strong focus on the administration, operations and implementation of technology programs. Dr. Nettikaden also explores new, innovative technologies to enhance teaching and learning at all Esol Education schools. He manages the technology departments at all Esol schools, which strive to provide an exceptional user experience to students and teachers, by taking advantage of organizational synergies and the standardization of operational processes. Dr. Nettikaden earned a Doctorate in Education from Rossier School of Education, University of Southern California, MBA from Northern Illinois University and MS in Information Technology from Northwestern University. Apart from spending time with his family, he is passionate about new technologies and understanding the impact of these technologies on the daily lives of people.