Learning environments that are fun and engaging rather than dry give learners stronger motivation to persist and take charge of their own educational outcomes.  Because positive attitudes to learning foster positive teaching and learning environments, gamification in education has become an important concept and has seen educators find innovative ways to introduce elements of game design to the classroom.

What is ‘gamification’?

‘Gamification’ is a term meaning ‘to turn an experience into a game-like process by using elements of game design’.  In an educational context, the term refers to using game-like interactive lesson design to encourage learner engagement and motivation.

How is gamification being used in education?

There are several ways game design elements are being used to build positive learning experiences. These include (through the collection of data generated by the learner):

  • Implementing reward systems (such as earning badges and points, similar to how online gamers unlock achievements to display – a form of ‘bragging rights’)
  • Creating leader boards
  • Creating unlockable content (further modules that are only made available when specific challenges and conditions are met)
  • Diversifying learner roles by providing role-playing choices within a gamified environment

These and other interactional elements of games are used to give learners classroom experiences that challenge them to persevere and work towards outdoing their own (as well as leaders’) best results.

Some have argued that gamification places too much emphasis on motivating students via external rewards (more on this here). Despite this criticism, traditional teaching approaches (such as the classic ‘gold star’ reward) also make use of similar reward-based methods.

Why is gamification an apt approach for engaging and stimulating learners?

This particular approach is effective because it gives learners incentives to strive and persist in their studies. Besides the motivating stimulus gamification offers, it also:

  • Gives learners immediate feedback: This immediacy makes work exciting and engaging
  • Gives students the ability to ‘own’ their learning – learning becomes more self-directed
  • Makes the long-term benefits of learning more immediately recognisable and tangible
  • Makes learning more fun by increasing interactivity

Joey J. Lee, Assistant Professor of Technology and Education at Columbia University, points out that gamification isn’t simply the best approach to increasing learner enjoyment and engagement by virtue of its strengths. As Lee stresses, it’s crucial to make any gamified learning experience address real challenges that educators face and be selective about application. Rather than gamify learning for its own sake, it should be used (Lee says) in areas where gamification offers the highest value.

What products are being used to gamify education presently?

There are numerous apps being offered to educators as well as directly to learners that incorporate the benefits of gamification into skills development. LevelUp, a South African –made mobile learning solution, is one such example. The learning platform was launched by The Reach Trust in 2016 to provide underprivileged learners with a simple way to supplement their existing learning materials and contact teaching. The platform takes a social approach, connecting learners as well as academic support providers around contextualised learning materials that are delivered over mobile devices.

Pic from www.thereachtrust.org
Pic from www.thereachtrust.org

One of the common gamification strategies LevelUp uses is the ‘daily challenge’. Challenges encourage learners to test and consolidate their knowledge in exchange for various rewards.

Another educational app developer in South Africa, Xander, produces apps for young children in several of South Africa’s official languages (including isiXhosa, isiZulu and Tswana). These apps provide word pronunciation practice, apps for improving numerical literacy, games that improve fine motor skills and other educational tools.

In addition to cellular devices, tablets are being used widely to offer learners more ways to acquire and consolidate information via fun, engaging and challenging media.