Reference: Games as intervention for learning

Bringing education and game elements together brings the best of both to work together, leading to results for developing 21st century skills. Gamification can motivate students to engage in the classroom, give teachers better tools to guide and reward students, and get students to bring their full selves to the pursuit of learning.

There are some negative aspects also. Gamification might absorb teacher resources, or teach students to learn only when provided with external rewards. Playfulness requires freedom – the freedom to experiment, to fail, to explore multiple identities, to control one’s own investment and experience. By making play mandatory, we have the risk of creating rule-based experiences that feel just like school.

To understand the potential of gamification,  we need to understand by deploying these techniques in practice. Here are three areas in learning where gamification can serve as an intervention.

Cognitive : With complex systems of rules in  games, the players are made to explore  through active experimentation and discovery. The game keeps the player engaged with potential difficult tasks and guides the players through the mastery process. The learning challenges needs to be tailored to the player’s skill level, increasing the difficulty as the player’s skill expands. Only the  moderately difficult,  immediate goals are motivating for learners. Games offer multiple routes to  success and allows gamer to choose their own sub-goals within the larger task. This induces motivation and engagement and can transform student perspectives on learning.

The students are not told what to do without understanding the larger benefits of the workThe student needs to be given clear, actionable tasks, with promise of immediate rewards instead of vague long-term benefits.  The reward for solving a problem is a harder problem.

Emotional. Games invoke a range of powerful emotions, from curiosity to frustration to joy and  invoke positive emotional experiences, such as optimism and pride. Crucially, the players learn to  persist through negative emotional experiences and even transform them into positive ones. As games involve repeated experimentation, the only way to learn how to play the game is to fail at it repeatedly, learning something each time. Student creates a positive relationship with failure by making feedback cycles rapid and keeping the stakes low.  Now, players can keep trying until they succeed and there is very little risk  by doing so. Compare with schools, where stakes of failure are high and the feedback cycles long.

When students have few opportunities to try, and  the stakes are high in the opportunities, the students experiences anxiety, not anticipation. When students are offered the chance to fail, they start to believe in the promise of resilience in the face of failure, and re-frame failure as a necessary part of learning. The shorten feedback cycles is a low-stakes approach to assess their own capabilities, and create an environment in which effort, not mastery, is rewarded. Students learn to see failure as an opportunity, instead of becoming helpless, fearful or overwhelmed.

Social. Games allow players to try on new identities and roles, asking them to make in-game decisions from their new vantage points. Players also adopt roles that are less explicitly fictional, exploring new sides of themselves in the safe space of play. Developing a strong school-based identity helps engage students in learning in the long run . The students are allowed to publicly identify themselves as scholars through playing the game. The student gets social credibility and recognition for academic achievements, that are  otherwise invisible or even be denigrated by other students. The students also have the ability to reward each other with in-game currency.

A well-designed game system can help players take on meaningful roles that are fruitful for learning.  We must carefully design game projects that address the real challenges of schools, that focus on the areas where game can provide the maximum value, that also address the potential dangers of gamification for both games and schools.

In tandem with the creation of game projects, we must develop meaningful assessments to verify whether they are achieving their aims. If we can harness the energy, motivation and sheer potential of their game-play and direct it toward learning, we can give students the tools to become high scorers and winners in real life.