Gamification = Motivated Learners?

Gamification is one of those words that I read a lot about each morning when I’m surveying posts about e-learning. My understanding of gamification is that it is the incorporation of game-like elements into learning activities and is particularly prevalent in discussion of online learning for the corporate environment. Such elements include the awarding of badges for successful activity completion¬†and the comparison of learning achievements on leader boards.

Does it work? Does it work in the sense of actually motivating learners to learn across contexts? And, ultimately, does it promote genuine development of inidviduals? What I haven’t seen is a lot of evidence in terms of results from rigorous experimentation or contextualised qualitative studies. It is a shame that contextual detail tends to be lacking in a lot of online posts on this subject, and I think that would help to make claims about the benefits of gamification a lot more concrete.

I also wonder about the tacking on of game-like elements to learning activities which otherwise are not games in themselves. Is that enough to promote learner motivation? I just get the feeling that many people might see through the gamification veneer. With previous experience of teaching adults and young learners, one thing I learnt to avoid was to claim something was a game, when it was patently something else like a test. Adding game-like scoring or a sense of competition did not always make much noticeable impact on student motivation in these kinds of activity.

Games themselves, rather than gamification, are interesting tools for promoting learning. I have found them to be most effective in practising short, atomised segments of content, such as vocabulary. They can be super energising activities with adults as well as children. But, they have their limits. If I want to get my learners engaging with content at a deeper level and to bring higher order thinking skills like evaluation to bear, then I would look at alternative learning mechanisms like meaningful tasks or project work. Getting learners to create things, whether it is a flyer, a simple comic strip, a role-play or a video recording, works at this deeper level and produces a concrete product that learners can share for commentary, feedback and ultimately celebration of their achievements.

I am open to exploring gamification and its uses but I hope that discussion around it takes a more grounded exploratory approach. It’s not a ‘must’. I want to see more convincing evidence that it makes a difference and then more open discussion about where it holds its appropriate place as a learning tool among many others.


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