Gamified Learning: Engaging Students and Solving Problems

“Gamification is the process of using game thinking and game dynamics to engage audiences and solve problems.” –Gabe Zichermann


Gabe Zichermann is the expert on leveraging tools used in videogames to drive up user engagement outside of actual videogames. Since he began advocating for gamification it has been incorporated into every facet of modern life, from shoppers earning points for buying groceries to rewarding users for the amount of miles they’ve driven using certain GPS apps. It is a great way to interact with users and give them an incentive to keep playing these games. Gamified education has laid dormant until recent years. It emerged in the early 1990s with CD-ROM games, like Mavis Beacon and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego. Despite its presence in the market, gamified learning still took years to gain its popularity and practicality. Gamification in education has made significant improvements in the way “Generation G” students perform in school. “Generation G” is the generation just after “Generation Y”, who have never lived without the existence of videogames. “Generation G” has been rewired to have different expectations and standards for entertainment, which causes them to struggle with traditional class structure.

Mark Carnes, author of Minds on Fire: How Role Immersion Games Transform College, emphasizes that gamification in classrooms can significantly increase student motivation and participation. The traditional and outdated one-size-fits-all learning model often does not work as well with today’s students. Engaging students through new modes of delivery in education reinvigorates the students.

The gamification gives students a goal, allowing them to have a narrow focus, which leads to a greater likelihood of success. Generation G requires a constant feedback loop. Like in videogames, gamified education does not allow students to progress unless they have mastered certain concepts or competencies. This feature ensures that students fully grasp material before they are allowed to move to more complex and in depth material. It also allows students to archive all of their work and have tangible evidence of what they have completed and mastered. Offering the students objectives that they believe are worth completing leads to independence and self-direction. The students participate because it is beneficial to their own personal growth, not because it is mandatory.

Eric Klopfer, Scot Osterweil, and Katie Salen of Massachusetts Institute of Technology penned Moving Learning Games Forward: Obstacles, Opportunity, and Openness to motivate and provide information to those educators who want to participate in gamified education. They note that people who play videogames display persistence, creativity, risk taking, attention to detail, and problem solving skills, which are skills that educators want students to learn in the classroom. Students gain these characteristics by using videogames in the classroom. Students have “Freedom to Fail” according to Moving Learning Games Forward, because they can complete the education on their own pace and without external pressures. Because there is not as much pressure, the students feel free to learn from their failures, affecting them more positively than failing traditional coursework could.

Surprisingly there is a lot of opposition toward incorporating video games into curriculum, but studies show consistently that this form of self-paced, entertaining, out-come oriented education drives up student engagement and motivation. Gamified learning is going to break the mold of traditional coursework. In the future students will no longer dread their homework and exams, but relish in the excitement of competition inside and outside of the classroom.

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