Why you should care about gamification in higher education

New studies, data reveal that gamification is more than just a fad; helps students later in careers

gamification-gaming-learningGaming in education has, for the most part, been a K-12 trend, with its popularity relegated to supplemental learning for elementary school students. But gamification, from its implementation at MIT to its praise from the job industry, has much more serious implications for college students—and perhaps it’s time higher education got serious about incorporating game design.

Today’s course design is under incredible pressure from popular practices favored by students—practices like the inclusion of interactive mobile technology, blended learning, Flipped Learning, and the integration of peer community forums—and according to experts, understanding the reasons why students prefer these methods of instruction can be gleaned from taking part in gaming.

“We do games so that we can relate better to our students,” said Kae Novak, chair for ISTE’s SIG Virtual Environments and project lead instructional designer for student engagement and assessment at Front Range Community College. “Students constantly tell us that they wish classes were more like games, so knowing the parts of gaming that can be incorporated into learning helps to change our knowledge structure.” [Read: “Should every educator also be a gamer?”]

And Novak knows what she’s talking about: According to data from Knewton—an adaptive learning tech provider—28 million people harvest their crops on FarmVille every day; and over 5 million play an average of 45 hours a week of games. As a planet, we spend 3 billion hours a week playing video and computer games.

These statistics alone show that there has to be something about the way games are designed that people find appealing.

And according to The Knowledge Guru—a game-based learning engine—a research study, “Does Game-Based Learning Work?” found that when video games were added to classroom instruction in various undergraduate courses, students in classes using the games scored significantly higher than classes that did not.

But what makes gamification effective; and are all game designs created equal? A series of infographics developed by leading technology solutions providers help answer these questions.

(Next page: How gamification can affect learning)

How does gamification work?

Gamification, or the use of game design elements in non-game contexts, incorporates elements that, according to Knewton’s infographic, can be harnessed for educational purposes; for example:

  • Progression: This element helps the student see success visualized incrementally through levels that ramp up and unlock content, as well as points that increase the running numerical value of work.
  • Investment: This helps the student feel pride in their work in the game through achievements earned for public recognition, appointments to receive new challenges, collaboration to accomplish goals, “epic meaning” or working to achieve something, and “virality” that incentivizes involving others.
  • Cascading Information: This element helps unlock information continuously through bonuses, countdowns, discovery, loss aversion (playing to avoid losing what’s been gained); “infinite play” (learn until expertise is developed), and “synthesis” (working on challenges that require multiple skills to solve).

An Ethical Island, a learning blog for innovators, also produced an infographic about the elements of gaming that can be applied to 21st-century learning, and discusses how gamification incorporates the Self-Determination Theory (SDT).

The SDT, coined by researchers Deci and Ryan in 1985, describes the confluence of competence, autonomy, and social relatedness.

Students ‘seek out optimal stimulation and challenging activities and find these activities intrinsically motivating because [students] have a basic need for competence,” said an Eccles and Wigfield study in 2002.

Ultimately, the design elements used in games gives the user “freedoms,” many of which are the learning “freedoms” touted in colleges and universities; such as the freedom to fail, the freedom to fashion identities, the freedom of interpretation, the freedom to experiment, and the freedom of effort, says Ethical Island’s infographic.

Theory into practice

The Knowledge Guru emphasizes that creating a learning game, or gamification of learning, is a dual process of both creating a game-like solution and a learning solution.

“You are doing both,” says the infographic. “You need to design gameplay that is fun and balanced AND you need to design a solution that achieves specified learning objectives. Because of its dual nature, learning game design lends itself to an agile development process as opposed to an ADDIE method.”

The infographic explains that in an agile process, the designer brainstorms concepts and quickly mocks them up, refining as the process evolves. Therefore, gamification should start with defining instructional goals and objectives, moving to brainstorming concepts, followed by creating a prototype, ending with a cycle of refining, play testing and evaluating before finalizing the game/course.

According to an MIT paper, “Moving Learning Games Forward,” games in education can be used as:

  • Authoring platforms: Games are used to produce an artifact (another game, model, visual or written text), such as students producing a model in StarCraft.
  • Content Systems: Games deliver content about a particular subject area; for instance, students gain knowledge of Caribbean history by playing Pirates.
  • Simulations: Students use games to test theories about systems and tinker with variables; for example, students gain a systemic understanding of engineering problems by working with a limited budget and available materials in Bridge Builder.

[More examples of concrete gamification in learning are in the infographic on page 3 and 4 of this article.]

“Today’s games are massively multiplayer, involve virtual reality, role-playing and user-created content, as well as new elements like augmented reality,” says Knewton, and all of these elements should be considered in learning design.

(Next page: Helping with careers)

Gamification is being used in innovative companies

The Knowledge Guru reveals that the ROI (Return-On-Investment) from gamification can be tremendous.

It’s data partner for the infographic, Bottom-Line Performance, has used game-based learning and developed case studies which show that using game design helps “employees and partners prepare to successfully sell and support their new mobile marketing product…”

In a broader scope, an infographic from the Association for Talent Development (ASTD), reveals that out of 551 people that completed the ASTD survey, 25 percent use gamification in their organization for learning. 49 percent use gamification for training all employees, 42 percent use it for new employee orientation, and 34 percent use it for high-potential employee development programs.

This “gets you thinking about how gamification and serious games could improve role play for leadership, management, customer services, sales development, and general soft skills improvement programs,” says ASTD.

Knewton’s infographic:

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(Next page: The other infographics)

The Knowledge Guru’s infographic

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An Ethical Island’s infographic:

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ASTD’s infographic:

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