Written by Dr Patrick Tran, from the University of New South Wales
To play or not to play, that is the question we need to consider when deciding to gamify a course. Gamification may not work in all circumstances. It demands hard work and involves some level of complexity.
- How far into game playing are you willing to go?
- Will it have a meaningful impact on the learners, considering their mixed learning styles and the specific content?
Let’s discuss some pitfalls and good practices of gamification in the context of learning.
How effective is gamification?
It is not clear whether a connection exists between gamification and performance – don’t be too surprised about this! Not all people learn equally in a gamified environment, so a predictable outcome, good or bad, is not possible.
In fact, learners’ participation and motivation is what gamification aims to improve. Can motivation translate to better learning performance? This remains to be seen.
How to deal with losing in a game?
One problem with gamification is that people can win or lose in a game. The feeling of being a loser is not particularly fun or encouraging. As educators, we need to balance the positive and negative emotions of winning and losing.
One way to combat this is to deemphasize winning. Don’t spend too much time praising the winners but rather, emphasize learning aspects of the experience.
For example, we can measure learners’ progress against themselves as how much improvement has been made, instead of comparing against others.
Use what you have and be mindful of potential costs
It has never been easier for educators to gamify their courses than it is now. Most learners are already familiar with gamified experiences in many aspects of their life, ranging from customer loyalty programs to actual digital games.
The current learning management systems (LMSs) are so flexible that educators, with limited technical skills, can make their learning activities more engaging with interactive media. This effort is well supported by the game-like mechanics built in LMSs such as completion tracking and restrict access.
It can take some creative thinking to imagine what else the basic components of an LMS can achieve, and it may be tempting to acquire a specialized gamification platform or install fancy gamification plugins in your LMSs. However, we have to be mindful of the cost effectiveness of this decision and consider our institutions’ policies and processes around LMS management.
Don’t worry! Simple activities, if implemented with strong pedagogical support and game thinking, can achieve pretty much the same goals as specialized tools.
How much gamification do I need?
Behind the scene, gamification attempts to use extrinsic motivators (e.g. external rewards) to develop an intrinsic drive for people to engage in an activity. The result of this process, if successful, is an enduring engaging experience. The gamification design itself may not last forever; engagement can diminish over time if we stop the external incentives. This is absolutely fine.
In reality, we often use gamification as an initial push to our learners, long enough for a strong self-motivation to be established as the primary driver of learning. The rule of thumb is that you only need to gamify 20% of the course that accounts for 80% of the desired outcome since turning everything into games is time consuming and difficult.
Gamification is sometimes mischaracterized as only developing a game or motivating people through game playing. It is not. Gamification simply means using game elements to trigger positive emotions that help guide people through the content. In fact, a gamified experience may not even involve any actual game.
I hope that you now have some basic understanding of gamification design concepts. Many teachers are already doing this, by taking an activity and reframing it to be more appealing. This is gamification by definition! The potential of this approach to educational design is only limited by your imagination.
So next time when you try to develop an engaging and motivating experience, think like a game designer!
You can use the Moodle (Wattle) quiz to do gamification. Check out the optional extra materials about how this can work.
|Activity 1 – What could go wrong with gamification?|
|Relate to your work (e.g. teaching) or life, give an example in which gamification may not be suitable. Explain why.|
|Activity 2 – How gamification can help you|
|How would you plan to apply game thinking in your own course or a course that you attended in the past? Be specific about what you hope to achieve from this plan.|