Gamification is the process of applying game mechanics to a course or subject matter…
A teaching and learning game can be a small part of an overall learning experience, or it can be an entire course, built from the ground up to be played as a game, and composed of many smaller sub-games.
Good games are fun to play, and our brains are wired to enjoy the experience of playing games because we have a sense of mastery and accomplishment when we succeed in real life and in a game situation. When the fun elements of games are introduced into teaching and learning, the result is an engaging, motivating learning experience that learners actually want to participate in.
For instance, gamification might involve something as simple as getting a badge for completing a unit in a course instead of a letter grade. Alternatively, it might be something a lot more complex, like navigating a series of difficult choices in a branching scenario, with each choice being awarded points which are then reflected on a leaderboard as learners compete with each other.
Or, it might be something in-between, like a crossword puzzle or word find game to improve vocabulary for each unit in a course, or a trivia game about facts in the course material. Each game is different of course, so finding the right balance of game elements, playfulness, challenge, learning and winning or losing is important.
There has been some tremendous research recently (Enders & Vipond) into game-based learning, and some essential elements for good game design have been identified:
- Combine fun and realism, where simulation and fantasy make learning fun, but where the core issue still remains the focus.
- Opportunities to earn very short-term, helpful rewards, where small achievements earn badges, and in-game rewards motivate players to keep going. The ability to fail, though, is also important because it drives experience.
- Keep the story interesting and deep enough to leave the learner with a sense of wonder, encourages curiosity and enough emotional attachment to want to play and succeed.
- Perpetual challenges will keep learners motivated, but the goals should be short term enough so the learner doesn’t lose interest. From a design perspective, the game should also be aligned to what you want the learner to be able to do at the end of the game. Also, modulate the challenges so learners aren’t bored with the game being too easy, nor too hard.
- Finally, game play should be designed to allow learners work out their own solutions within the bounds of the game. To that end, branching scenarios and multiple solutions to the learning outcomes are important and useful design considerations.
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- Enders, B., & Vipond, S. (2016). How to Overcome Myths and Misconceptions of Gamification and Promote Gamified Learning. Santa Rosa CA: The eLearning Guild.