In math education, we’re always thinking of ways to make math appear more “sexy” and interesting. How do we motivate and enage students? It’s one of the core questions every math teacher asks themselves daily, and the source of many discussions. What we have learned is that gamification in education is a very effective method to achieve these goals.
With the first videogame being released in 1958, and the medium widely popularized in the 1980s, it’s hard to think of a world without games. Children especially, 97% of whom play video games, shape themselves and their world around games. And since 45% of all gamers in Europe are female, we can’t call it a strictly boys’ hobby anymore. It’s therefore not surprising that education has been reaching out, trying to implement gaming in their teaching.
How to Implement Gamification for Education
Games keep players occupied and interested for hours at a time by using different elements simultaneously. But how exactly do they do that and what elements work so well?
I will go over some examples of these elements below, as they can be used in learning too. In fact, most have been for many generations in offline form. They might therefore not seem new to some education specialists. However, it is important to note that many gamification for education elements have an amplified effect when used in the digital world.
Narrative: games can be fun because they have great story. Technology too can be a great tool to link exercises and assessments together with a compelling narrative students can identify with, and which keeps them interested in what is to come.
Immediate feedback: people like to know how well they are performing; it’s one of the core pillars of (video) games. Technology can tell students immediately how well they did on a specific task, and give them personalized tips on how to continue.
Social connectivity: a digital leaderboard comparing scores can be a nice way to create a friendly competitive atmosphere amongst learners. But there are more ways to include social connectivy, e.g. sharing projects, forums where students can ask and answer questions, or personalizable student profiles.
Mastery and leveling up: games let players know they are progressing, so a lot of edtech solutions keep track of a student’s mastery, introducing harder challenges as they master subjects and rewarding learners whenever they level up.
How Gamification Can Help Make Learning Yours
Apart from gaming offering both intrinsic and extrensic motivators to keep students going, employing gamification in learning offers a wide range of benefits which aren’t immediately clear on the surface.
An element of gaming can give students ownership over their own learning. When learning becomes personalized, students can more easily identify with it; they will start to feel more ownership over it, like they would a game character. And when that milestone is reached, the world opens up! Because now, they feel the need to improve on it, and really make it theirs.
The process of an increasing sense of ownership can be amplified when its cultivated in a culture of play and safety. Your brain grows the most when it makes a mistake, whether that’s in math, social sciences or something else. This is why it’s important to create a learning environment in which students can safely try things out and fail. Games do this too. Characters die, and battles are lost. But this doesn’t stop the player from pushing through. This is because the journey itself is fun, the process is yours, and there are no negative repercussions. Gamification of learning can help create this safe environment.
Furthermore, games can make learning visible, making gamification for education an excellent way to keep students engaged. What keeps most people engaged in video games is a real sense of progress, and knowing that they own that progress. A good way to visualize this is using bars, graphs, and numbers.
Progress can be expressed in different ways. A student may have a personal learning level, and every time they successfully finish a set of exercises, they get more points to add to their level. Maybe they can see how much content they have already mastered, or earn in-game currency with which to unlock new content.
Implementing these features means tasks become actionable, which motivates learners to continue on with the next step. Education scholar James Paul Gee writes: “In the best-designed games, the reward for solving a problem is a harder problem.” Gamification can do the same for education.
Lastly, a system in which progress becomes directly visible has the added effect that the rewards received are immediate and clear. Old-school learning promises vague long-term benefits, like a good grade at the end of the year, studying at a well-known university, or a high-paying job. Gamification of learning can speak to what our brain is best wired to listen to: immediate gratification.
An Example of Gamification in Learning – Achievement Badges
At SOWISO, we have already implemented a large number of these features, with immediate personalized feedback, social connectivity like our forum, a visualized mastery and individual progress being the main ones.
But we’ll be adding a new feature to that list this week: accomplishment badges. Badges can be earned for important learning and social tasks, but also for informal ones to keep the element of fun. Some of these are hidden, and can only be seen once unlocked, adding a sense of surprise to the mix!
Badges give students both a sense of where they are in their learning, and motivate them to work hard on reaching the next level of badges. It provides them with an immediate reward, followed up with a challenge to improve themselves. They can also be used in a social sense, as students can compare what tasks they have completed and what secret badges they have uncovered.
With this new feature, we can increase the performance expectations of students. When learners can see what they need to do to unlock a badge (e.g. solve 350 questions without any mistakes), they will set that as a personal learning goal. Furthermore, badges can increase self-efficacy. Knowing a goal is reachable, as opposed to being very difficult, motivates students to reach that goal.
As games becoming a bigger part of our every day lives, it will inevitably impact our schools as well. So gamification for education is something we should embrace. Gamification is a great way to not only engage students more in their learning, but also improve the outcomes. Especially when we apply it smartly, knowing the research behind it, we can give students what they need to succeed in life.
Let’s talk again soon,