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Deep Dive into Gamification

Updated: Sep 18, 2023

By Sean Connick : Published: 13th September 2023

In this article, we take a deep dive into the fascinating field of Gamification in Education. We will explore its beginnings, the core principles behind it, and the pros and cons.


The beginning of Gamification has debatable foundations. The term has links to the foundations of the Boy Scout movement in the early 1900s, where outdoor and practical education was deliberately taught entertainingly and engagingly. But for this article, we will look at the history of Gamification concerning digital education. Source.


In 1978, we witnessed the birth of the groundbreaking MUD1, the first Multi-user Dungeon game by Roy Trubshaw and Richard Bartle. This solely text-based game was the first actual multiplayer game where players worked cooperatively to achieve objectives.


In the 1980s, academics had started to acknowledge the potential benefits of limited use of Gamification in education, mainly focused on the burgeoning video game industry.


It wasn't until the 1990s that computer technology became affordable enough for widespread adoption in schools and home settings, but it was still considered an expensive luxury. It was also the golden age (in the author's opinion, as he played them as a child) of educational video games such as the Magic School Bus series, Tonka Construction, and Mission T.H.I.N.K.Source.


Richard Bartle, in 1996, developed the four categories of gamers: Achievers, Explorers, Socializers, and Killers. Even though these gamer types are more focused on non-educational games, it is essential to consider their broader implications to ensure educational games are enjoyable. Source.


It wouldn't be until 2002 when the game designer Nick Pelling coined the term Gamification. Initially, the term was solely attributed to the game-style interface on devices such as ATMs, vending machines, and mobile phones. Source.


There is evidence to suggest that the late 2000s and early 2010s were a difficult period for Gamification in education, with significant industry realignment leading to a decline in gamification options for educational providers. In 2014, several articles declared the end of Gamification. Source.


The use of Gamification in education remained relatively stable until the COVID-19 pandemic when the industry went through a rapid expansion to meet the unprecedented demand for at-home education. Source.


The above timeline is not meant to be taken as a definitive history but as an indication of some of the trends and external forces that have shaped Gamification in education. Now let's look at some of the core principles that define the learning objectives of Gamification.


  • Action (e.g., objectives): Clear objectives provide students with a sense of purpose and direction in Gamification-based education.


  • Social (e.g., competition): Healthy competition among peers enhances engagement and encourages collaboration, enriching the learning experience.


  • Mastery (e.g., scoring): Scoring systems help students track their progress and set achievable goals, fostering a sense of achievement.


  • Achievement (e.g., awards)Awards and recognition mechanisms motivate students to excel and strive for success.


  • Immersion (e.g., roleplaying): Roleplaying elements immerse students in interactive scenarios, making learning more engaging and memorable.


  • Creativity (e.g., customization): Customization options and creative freedom empower students to personalize their learning experiences, increasing engagement and motivation.Source.


Pros of Gamification:


  • Enhances Learner Engagement: Everyone enjoys playing games, and this instinct remains even in adulthood. Traditional eLearning methods like slideshows and lectures can be uninspiring. Gamification breathes life into dull courses, making them engaging and captivating. Engaged learners tend to be more productive, and gamified challenges and tasks foster a sense of accomplishment, leaving learners eager to meet course objectives.


  • Provides Immediate Feedback: In gamified learning, learners receive prompt feedback, whether positive or negative, which keeps them motivated and moving forward. This feedback is closely tied to learning objectives, allowing learners to track their progress and stay motivated throughout the game. Leaderboards offer additional feedback by letting learners gauge their performance against their peers.


  • Boosts Motivation Through Badges: Motivation is the driving force behind successful learning journeys, and badges serve as rewards at various checkpoints in the game. These badges can be as simple as stickers or more elaborate, such as Starbucks gift cards for top-performing participants. Displayed in the game or on the company's website, badges instill a sense of importance and skill in users, fostering a strong sense of achievement.


Cons of Gamification:


  • High Development Costs: Game development is a time-consuming and expensive process compared to traditional instructional design. The demand for additional resources, including animations, graphics, stock media, music, and sound effects, can quickly inflate the project's budget.


  • Diminished Long-Term Value: Games not only require significant initial investments but also ongoing maintenance costs. Games can quickly appear outdated, causing learners to question the relevance of the content. Additionally, once a learner completes a game, they may be reluctant to revisit it for reference, potentially necessitating the creation of supplementary reference materials, further increasing project costs.


  • Potential for Superficial Quizzes: Ensuring that gamified content is genuinely enjoyable and not merely a disguised quiz requires creativity and effort. Assessments within games should align with learning objectives, just like traditional eLearning courses. Meaningful incentives, such as tokens, badges, or in-game rewards, are essential to motivate adult learners. Real-life scenarios, situations, and challenges that directly relate to the job are more effective than conventional quizzes and tests, ensuring that the game serves as a valuable learning tool. Source.


In conclusion, Gamification has a lot to offer potential students and educational providers in terms of engagement and student-centric learning. However, due to development costs and the need to stay at the cutting edge, it may prove to be an expensive development and operation. Only time will tell if it will continue to develop further post-pandemic.


Time is quickly running out to enter the 2023 Digital Education Awards, with less than 65 days to go!


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