Gamification in Education: What Are We Doing Wrong?

Posted in Blog on 11 August 2015

Gamification has entered the workforce as a successful tool to help with recruitment, employee motivation and skills training. Companies like Google, Microsoft, Volkswagen, and Samsung have all seen measurable achievement of defined objectives using a gamified model of engagement.

But in education, we’ve witnessed mixed success in the application of gamification for student learning.

Gamification, what are the rules?

According to a Pew Research Center report, gamification is “interactive online design that plays on people’s competitive instincts and often incorporates the use of rewards to drive action — these include virtual rewards such as points, payments, badges, discounts and free gifts; and status indicators such as friend counts, re-tweets, leaderboards, achievement data, progress bars and the ability to level up.”

Over the last few years many institutions have explored using easy reward incentives as a simple way to bring gamification to learning. Khan Academy awards students with points and badges as they watch instructional videos and complete problem sets.

I won a Badge? Whoopee!

According to the 2015 New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report on emerging technology for K–12, only badges – and not gamification – are still considered a growing trend.

In a follow-up report by Edtech magazine, NMC CEO Larry Johnson was quoted explaining why gamification concept didn’t make the cut in this year’s report. “We don’t see it making the mainstream,” he says. “For most people, it’s just too hard to integrate and there are no tools to make it easier.”

Upping the Game

So while elements of gamification – such as badges – have started to gain popularity, applying gamification tactics (there are up to 24 according to game theorists) has yet to be practically implemented. Why is this so?

Educational influencer, Vicki Davis states that gamification is more than just handing out badges or points. “If you’re going to engage your students using any form of gaming, you should understand game mechanics,” she states in her Edutopia article, Gamification in Education.

And while there are edtech companies using gaming mechanics, to help engage learners and motivate them to keep coming back, many in the industry feel that educational institutions simply don’t know where to begin.

According to educator, Alfonzo Gonzalez during his exploration of implementing gamification in his classroom, “The most important aspect of gamification (will) be a change in how you run your classroom especially the way teachers traditionally grade, assess, and show students how they are doing.”

The Big Game? Higher Ed

Interestingly enough, higher education is still showing more interest (and more success) in the potential engagement capabilities that gamification can bring to classrooms.

According to an annual UCLA survey, roughly 40 percent of freshmen are deeply disengaged from the academic life of their institution, frequently skipping class and rarely studying.

College education itself is undergoing a paradigm shift and has seen a slew of new education methods in recent times including blended learning and flipped learning, as well as changes in course design and delivery modes.

Inside HigherEd covers a Barnard College historian, Mark Carnes’s answer to use gamification tap the motivational power of play.

To address the challenges posed by disengaged students, Carnes launched “Reacting to the Past” in which he had students assume historical characters and debate fundamental issues during pivotal historical episodes. This program is now used at over 350 institutions, including liberal arts colleges, honors programs, regional universities, and community colleges.

In his book, Minds on Fire: How Role-Immersion Games Transform College, Carnes clearly shows how role-immersion games can channel students’ competitive (and sometimes mischievous) impulses into transformative learning experience.

Supporting that idea is co-founder of Make School (and former UCLA dropout), Ashu Desai. Establishing Make School in answer to the current state of affairs in higher education, Desai believes, “Gamification helps students be motivated by a purpose. For me, I always liked competing, and I was much more engaged when I had my own product that I wanted to bring out there.”

Sorry, you haven’t reached the next level! Try Again!

With educators still looking at better ways to engage with students and colleges in the midst of a transformation, it’s likely that gamification will continue to hang around.

Educators need to keep evolving or lose the battle on students’ attention. And there’s certainly no doubt that games can grab and hold attention like no other method.

What we hope to see is more innovative educators like Mark Carnes and Ashu Desai leading the way to show how gamification can be implemented and replicated successfully.



Further Reading Resources:


Tagged in: ,
Contact Us
Phone: (813) 997-5254
Menu Title