With the advent of gamification as a legitimate tool for engagement, recruitment and enrollment, campuses are reimagining how their learning spaces reflect new instructional approaches.

Gamification is moving from simple trend status to a valid pedagogical approach that can deliver powerful learning experiences in higher education classrooms—and this growth has led to changes in how faculty approach physical learning spaces.

Today’s students demand engaging educational experiences and thrive on stimulation and immediate feedback. As games become integrated into learning, game developers are realizing that many gaming attributes—challenges, rewards, and collaboration, to name just a few—have relevance in the classroom, too.

Part of what’s buoying this change is the fact that instructional models are changing—the sage on the stage model no longer aligns with the way today’s students wish to learn, said Robert Brodnick, founder of Brodnick Consulting Group, Inc. Brodnick also is principal at Strategic Initiatives, a management consulting firm that specializes in thought leadership to help organizations achieve their future vision and navigate change. He has served as an administrator and faculty member at three universities and his work has focused on building institutional capacity and effectiveness through strategy, planning, and innovation.

Gamification, typically defined as taking elements of game play and adding them to a non-game activity, can be done in different ways, and it’s becoming much more acceptable.

Common mechanics include earning points, earning badges, completing and advancing through levels, and moving through challenges or pathways.

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“What is so interesting—and this is the real driving force behind why gamification is hitting the learning environment—is that the more people engage in something, the more easily they learn or adapt to it,” Brodnick said. “Gamification, the fun side of serious play, really gets people engaged. It opens us up in new ways. It’s very different than content collection and testing based on your ability to remember something.”

Most gamified learning experiences are set in a narrative or story where the learner plays a role and must become personally engaged to understand how the game unfolds and to successfully complete it, he added. “It’s that storytelling component that helps deepen the engagement and drive motivation.”

Designing Learning Spaces for Gamification

About a year ago, Brodnick partnered with KI, a company that helps industries including education equip their physical spaces based on information about current and future trends and needs. In helping KI discover what was and would be impacting learning spaces, Brodnick identified key trends impacting learning design.

(Next page: Examples of how institutions are embracing gamification in learning spaces)

Gamification was among the key trends he identified, along with the maker movement, virtual worlds and immersive worlds, and the Internet of Things. Brodnick created conceptual images and videos of classrooms with wheeled desks, moveable walls and groupings of screens to allow for simultaneous viewing to reflect how gamification is changing learning spaces.

And when learning spaces change, “it’s a huge deal,” Brodnick said. “Classrooms have remained unchanged for decades. We’ve learned this all really matters. If you build and create spaces in a more flexible way, you’re not dictating to students how they’re going to have to learn.”

For instance, a new course in Penn State College of Education’s Learning Design and Technology  program is not only integrating technology in the classroom, it is encouraging the students’ use of commercial video games.

The online course offered this summer through Penn State World Campus trains current educators and teachers-in-training how to integrate commercial off-the-shelf video games into their lessons.

“This course develops 21st century teaching skills beyond the basics of technology integration,” said Ali Carr-Chellman, department head and professor of learning and performance systems. “It teaches current and future educators how to keep students engaged in learning by utilizing the technology they use in their everyday lives.”

And the University of California, Irvine is launching an e-sports and gaming initiative this fall, which the university says is the first of its kind at a public research university.

A state-of-the-art arena equipped with high-end gaming PCs, a stage for League of Legends competitions and a live webcasting studio will be constructed at the Student Center, and as many as 10 academic scholarships will be offered to students on the team.

A recent survey of students found that 72 percent identify as gamers and 89 percent support the creation of an e-sports team. College Magazine ranked UCI the No. 1 school for gamers in 2015. The Association of Gamers boasts the highest membership of any student club on campus, and the computer game science major in the Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences is the largest in the country.

At first, gamification was a fringe tool, not necessarily very common, but people were doing it,” Brodnick said. “I think that when the world got serious about games, and realized so many people, particularly that 12-22 age range, were spending lots of time gaming, research started and companies and developers got serious, even hiring educators and psychologists to help in game design and production.”

Not Just Gamification

According to Brodnick, there are three learning trends outside of gamifing causing a disruption to classroom spaces today:

1. Maker co-learning spaces: These spaces are based on the intersecting trends of the maker movement, learning, design thinking, and entrepreneurship. “When you put together design thinking—learning by doing—it has totally disrupted what a classroom should look like,” Brodnick said. “We know now that everything needs to be on wheels. We want things that can be used rapidly. Students are on their feet. They’re sitting, doing, moving.

2. Immersive visual simulation learning: This model takes trends of visual worlds, the Internet of Things and gamification, and imagines students entering a world based on simulation in which they’re either immersed via a headset or they’re interacting with screens. It’s blurring the lines between what is virtual and what’s real. For instance, science students might step inside a chemical reaction as it occurs to be a part of the reaction, which they see in 3D.

3. Boundary-less learningscape: This is based on trends of personalized learning, project-based learning, and blended learning involving handheld devices. “What we’re starting to realize is that learning is happening out of the classroom, more and more, as students are increasingly connected to each other and to information through their phones. Learning by doing is much more powerful than acquiring content and applying it five years later on the job. As you move around throughout the day, you have learning experiences, and it’s having a significant impact on how campuses are designed. You might not need as many classrooms, or as many bookshelves in libraries.”

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura

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