Gamification is a term that describes using “game thinking and game mechanics to engage users and solve problems.” (Zicherman & Cunningham, 2011, p. xiv). Games are very good at manipulating behavior because they keep us engaged in an experience not by happenstance, but by design. They do this by intentionally appealing to what we value, want, and need, which is why many companies have “gamified” their marketing campaigns to captivate consumers and drive profitability (e.g Nike +
In many ways, education somewhat resembles a game (Lee & Hammer, 2011). A game can be thought of as a highly structured system designed with specific rules, goals, and challenges. Successful games are fun – they motivate players to engage in the task at hand, from collecting coins and saving princesses (gotta love Mario Bros.) to storming battle fields in multiplayer combat scenarios (the Modern Warfare series comes to mind). At a deeper level, games activate a very primal response; they tap into the learning and behavior processes of the brain. People becomes so completely engaged in gameplay precisely because they are challenged; they must acquire and master new skills if they wish to advance to higher levels of complexity. If a task is too challenging it will lead to anxiety; if it is too easy it will lead to boredom. That perfect balance between the two is termed flow
The process of leveling up and enhancing one’s status through the collection of points is not so different from that of the education system. In a masterfully written article
Education has been a system of status and points since the dawn of the Industrial Age.” – Sarah Smith-RobbinsThe problem is that in this game students can become so fixated on the “points” and badges they forget the true goal of education; learning.
Once students misunderstand the goal of education, they cease to derive satisfaction or meaning from their educational experience. For young children, every newly acquired skill brings delight. They are enthralled by challenge and fascinated with learning. At what point does learning become boring? When does it become a chore? More importantly, is there a way to recapture that magic and go back to a time when learning was fun? The goal here is not to make learning a game, but to make a game of learning.
Would you believe it if someone told you that with gamification, college students are likely to complete quizzes for fun? I was able to obtain an unpublished manuscript describing a study in which gamification was used to improve learning in an undergraduate course at Old Dominion University (thanks to Dr. Richard Landers
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Anecdotal support for the benefits of gamification in higher education lies in the stories of professors like Lee SheldonAnanth Pai Timez Attack Brain Age 2 Flower Power
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One of the most shockingly awesome stories on gamification comes from the journal Nature Structural and Molecular Biology (NSMB September 2011Foldit
The ingenuity of game players is a formidable force that, if properly directed, can be used to solve a wide range of scientific problemsPossibly the first time in history that online gamers solved a long-standing scientific problem, researchers stated “These results indicate the potential for integrating video games into the real-world scientific process: the ingenuity of game players is a formidable force that, if properly directed, can be used to solve a wide range of scientific problems” (Khatib et al., 2011, p. 1177).
Perhaps the most inspirational example of gamification in education is the story of the Khan Academy
Gamification is already transforming education and the way we learn. Colleges and universities may be slow to adopt such methods because learning couldn’t possibly be fun right? Higher education institutions want to be taken seriously and how can that be if they use frivolous games and gaming mechanics to motivate their students? The culture in higher education needs to change because games are not just for kids. Imagine a university in which players, I mean students, are so utterly rapt with excitement they forget that they are learning; they are totally engaged. Why not? I hope to see more research in this area from institutions innovative enough to try such methods.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper Collins
Khatib et al. (2011). Crystal structure of a monomeric retroviral protease solved by protein folding game players. Nature Structural and Molecular Biology, 18, 1175-1177. doi: 10.1038/nsmb.2119. Retrieved from http://www.cs.washington.edu/homes/zoran/NSMBfoldit-2011.pdf
Landers, R. N. & Callan, R. C. (in press). Casual social games as serious games: The psychology of gameification in undergraduate education and employee training. In M. Ma, A. Oikonomou, & L. C. Jain (Eds.), Serious Games and Edutainment Applications. Surrey, UK: Springer
Lee, J. J., & Hammer, J. (2011). Gamification in education: What, how, why bother? Academic Exchange Quarterly, 15(2). Retrieved from http://www.gamifyingeducation.org/files/Lee-Hammer-AEQ-2011.pdf
Smith-Robbins, S. (2011). “This Game Sucks”: How to improve the gamification of education. EDUCAUSE Review, 46(1).
Zicherman, G. , & Cunningham, G. (2011). Gamification by design. Sebastopal, CA: O’Reilly Media