Written by Dr Patrick Tran, from the University of New South Wales
For centuries, humans have tried to fly just like birds by observing their behavior in flight and learning the science behind it. Unlike birds though, our human body has all the flying qualities of a … brick, which incidentally, does not fly at all. We do not have a light and strong bone structure or the right thrust/weight ratio to provide enough lift to keep us flying in air.
However, human observation of birds has inspired the engineering of modern flying machines, and in a similar fashion, educators have utilised techniques from game designers to make learning more engaging.
This course will take you through a short journey of gamification which will mimic the gaming experience in an educational context – and in particular, we will explore the concept of gamification which means thinking as a game designer in non-game contexts.
What is gamification in the context of learning?
Gamification is simply a design process that applies game elements in a non-game environment. Let’s consider learning as a serious activity that we all engage in every day. The main goal of traditional education is to convey information in the most comprehensible way and perhaps lead to behavior change once learning occurs.
However, this does not guarantee learners’ engagement, and gamification has emerged as a possible solution to this problem. Gamification allows us to reframe the goal of a lesson to include the need for educational content that is interesting, visually appealing, and personalized.
Game properties and elements
What makes games so attractive to so many people? There are many reasons including:
- The sense of mastery and competence (the joy of overcoming a challenge and ‘leveling up’).
- The curiosity of exploring the game environment.
- The excitement of winning a competition.
- The ‘replayability’ of the gaming experience (the possibility of reattempting, improving and winning).
It is worth noting that the emotions players experience are deeply personal and their approaches to interacting with the game are very different.
Game designers implement various elements and techniques such as points, badges, leaderboards, storytelling, ‘power-up’ bonuses, and hidden features to promote the appeal of their game.
Types of gamification
It is common to categorize gamification as content and structural gamification (Kapp 2012). Both types implement game elements to engage learners, but what sets them apart is the elements they use and how the content is impacted by this process.
Content gamification embeds the content into a game-like context, normally through storytelling. For example, you start your lesson with a story around solving a mysterious crime or finding a treasure, and players find more clues by progressing in the lesson. The success of this approach to gamification depends on the nature of the content as well as the designer’s ability to reframe it.
Structural gamification, on the other hand, does not modify the content but adds game elements. For example, students participate in a Q&A forum and earn points for their participation, or attempt advanced problems to be named on the leaderboards.
Why should you gamify learning?
By mimicking the gaming experience in your course you can improve your learners’ engagement, and this occurs at both emotional and cognitive levels.
The more time you spend on a game, the better you master it and perhaps feel more attached to it. This is similar to the concept of ‘learn by doing‘ in which repetition leads to mastery. This similarity and the deep engagement effect explain why gamification can be good for learning.
Gamification also promotes replayability by offering experiences that can be repeated many times without boring players. This effect helps learners develop their resilience, which is desirable in learning.
Using game-thinking with course design
1. Understand your audience
To select the design approach most suitable to our class, we need to firstly understand our learners – or in the context of gamification – what type of player they are. We can do this by running an icebreaker activity to tease out the learners’ personality traits, or ask them to take the Bartle test of Gamer Psychology which would place them in one of the following categories:
It is very likely that you will have all four player types in the class, hence a mixed approach to engagement is required to cater for different learning needs.
2. Plan learning activities
The next step is to decide what learning activities will be used and how to “dress” them up to be appealing to different player types.
For example, let’s say you want your students to write a reflection essay about a lecture topic.
- To make this activity more attractive to socializers and explorers, create a discussion forum (face-to-face or online) where they can freely express their feelings about the topic.
- With achievers, introduce a research component in the exercise so that they have to do extra work for higher marks.
- Finally, killers will be more engaged if a leaderboard is used to display the names of the highest achievers.
3. Select game properties
After planning the activities, we need to choose the gaming properties suitable to our course. Below is a list of properties mentioned previously and how they affect our design choices:
|Mastery and competence: scaffold learning activities into multiple levels, from novice to mastery with clear objectives and support provided along the way. Learners should be recognized for achieving certain skill levels or competencies. The scaffolding approach should not make the activity too easy as most learners would prefer spending time with challenging but achievable tasks.|
|Curiosity: avoid giving your learners all the puzzle pieces so all they have to do is to put them together. Instead, they should have the freedom to research and decide what tools or knowledge to use. Curiosity leads to knowledge and creativity.|
|Competition: provide a competitive environment in which learners (or a group of learners) compete against each other, or against themselves. This doesn’t have to involve marks or grades but can be non-assessable such as peer rating for being helpful in a forum discussion.|
|Replayability and the sense of resilience: design assessments to be formative rather than summative and allows multiple attempts; design achievable tasks and provide support as needed.|
|Personalized experience: design different learning paths for learners based on their stream of study (social science, engineering …) or their topic of interests. This approach fosters autonomy by giving them a choice in what works best for them. However, of course we need to ensure fairness and consistency throughout the class.|
4. Implement game elements
In Day 2, we will look into specific game elements and explore how to use them to support the selected game properties.
I hope you have enjoyed the first day of this course! Please join us in discussing the following activities.
1. Have a go at the Bartle Test and report your result. Do you find the gamer type and associated traits applicable to you?
2. Even if you don’t think you’ve ever gamified before, it is likely that you already have, without knowing it! For example, you may have organized a class discussion where students shared their views and you occasionally gave comments and endorsement to their responses. Even though you did not use a sophisticated rating system or a cool looking leaderboard to display the smartest responses, the chance is everyone felt engaged and participated to fulfil their psychological needs of socializing, and being competitive and recognized. That is already a gamified experience!
Now, please attempt the following question:
- What is your prior experience with gamification in education?
- Elaborate your answers by explaining the what (course context), the why (objects e.g. improved engagement) and the how (learner types, activities, game properties) of game-thinking you have used.
Kapp, K.M. 2012, The gamification of learning and instruction: game-based methods and strategies for training and education, John Wiley & Sons Inc.