Gamification, like toyetic or tchotchke, is a word that sounds made up. That said, it’s real enough and it’s been responsible for some of the most meaningful developments in education in the last few years.
In a broader sense, gamification means exactly what it sounds like. It’s a technique whereby game mechanics are used in a non-game setting in order to increase the engagement and sense of accomplishment of the user. At its core, gamification relies on reward systems such as points, badges, or virtual currency. These techniques tap into the user’s innate desire for achievement, status, and competition.
The term gamification was coined in 2002, but it didn’t gain much traction until just a couple of years ago. As video games have become a part of more and more households across the world, several other industries have tried to leverage their popularity by attempting to “gamify” their products. The field of education, including online colleges, has started to take a serious look at gamification as a means of increasing the engagement of their students.
Some great examples of the way that gamification has become a part of the classroom are various visually appealing management tools for the classroom. Each student gets a virtual avatar that provides them with nearly instant visual feedback from the teacher. This taps into the timeless system of positive reinforcement, only this time the encouragement comes from a virtual, and very video game-like avatar, which the student may be more likely to react to, versus positive reinforcement from the teacher. Not only that, but by using a classroom management tool, the teacher is free to spend more time instructing.
Other methods of gamification seek to more seamlessly blend learning with gameplay. There are a great many educational courses out there – and more every day – that offer stimulating gameplay even as they teach a skill, such as how to translate one language to another, or instruct the student on how to use a computer program, such as a word processor. Here, gameplay and learning are merged as seamlessly as possible, ensuring that students remain motivated to continue learning.
There’s something that seems almost dishonest about “tricking” students into learning, but it’s hard to argue with the results. Gamification is something like a Trojan horse method for delivering quality educational content to students; in some situations, they may not even be aware on a conscious level that they’re learning a skill. That’s the best situation that gamification effort can hope for: to perfectly blend entertainment with education, until the student associates learning with fun.
This isn’t an easy balance to pull off successfully. First and foremost, the content needs to be engaging. Like it or not, those with a video game development background may prove indispensable in this quest; they know the language, and know how best to capture the attention of their audience. It’s easy enough to provide quality educational content, but the game that delivers that content needs to be suitably engaging. Moreover, that merger needs to be seamless. The illusion is broken if the game switches jarringly between gameplay and learning. The best case scenario is where the student makes that transition so seamlessly that they’re hardly aware of the transition at all.
While it’s easy to think that gamification may be more appealing for a primary education audience, online college programs are also incorporating gamification into their curriculums. It’s essential to remember that there’s no minimum age requirement for fun.