Can Gamification Boost Independent Learning?

| April 27, 2011 | 10 Comments
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Gamification is one of the new buzzwords in social media circles. It’s the idea that by making non-gaming applications more game-like — by adding points, badges, levels, titles and other game mechanics — these apps become more fun and engaging.

The premise behind “gamifying” educational applications and websites is to instigate engagement and collaboration.

We see gamification at work in apps like Foursquare, where “checking in” and giving your location via the app earns you points and potentially the “mayorship” of venues. Even though the term may be new to some, gamification has been used for years for offline services too, such as earning points and unlocking special deals via frequent flyer programs.

The question now is whether (or how) gamification can be used in education. Are there ways in which it can be used to similar ends, to help students feel more involved and engaged in their learning?

In some ways, education is already replete with this sort of thing. You gain points (via assignments) to level up (in grades) and eventually win with a badge (your diploma). But that’s not really game-play. The premise behind “gamifying” educational applications and websites is to instigate engagement and collaboration.

To that end, the social learning network OpenStudy has unveiled some new rewards for active participants on the site — namely, medals and achievements — a first step in adding game mechanics to its site.

OpenStudy provides a place where learners can find others working in similar content areas in order to support each other and answer each others’ questions. The site is a recipient of one of the Gates Foundation’s recent Next Generation Learning Challenges for its work building out a global study network around opencourseware materials.

Those who are studying OpenCourseware are often, but not always, independent learners. While the OCW materials contain lecture notes, assignments, quizzes, PowerPoints, and sometimes videos, what they’re missing two big components: an instructor and a class. OpenStudy helps ameliorate the isolation for students by giving them a forum where they share questions and answers in real-time — where they can study together. In a popular class like MIT’s “Introduction to Computer Science,” there are so many learners signed up for Open Study that there are usually around 30 online at the same time.

The new gamification elements aim to meet a couple of OpenStudy’s goals: to make education more accessible by distributing the responsibility of teaching among an online group of peers, and to make education more enjoyable by making it game-like.

Even without the new rewards system for helping, plenty of users on OpenStudy already offer each other help. Some of the most loyal users of the site happen to also be some of the most active with offering their assistance. The gamification elements will recognize these helpful users, and encourage the behavior to spread.

The new features include the following:

Medals: Students can give medals to helpful peers. Medals are tracked at the study group level, so users will be able to see how helpful they are across different subjects.

Achievements: These will reward students for asking questions, socializing, engaging in particularly elaborate dialogue, and more. These will be rewarded both within study groups (for interacting with a particular subject) and across the site as a whole.

Fans: This will be OpenStudy’s version of testimonials, so users can become “fans” of people who’ve helped them. As you amass fans, you can unlock new titles and move from being a “pupil” to a “hero.”

After just one day in action, the site already has users who are “Super Heroes” with over 300 fans. OpenStudy is already a fairly active community — but the badges and titles may help it become even more robust.

Educators, have you used gamification tactics in class? Do points and badges make learning more engaging for students?

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  • http://twitter.com/birdy1976 Martin Vögeli :)

    In the webinar “Game Mechanics for Lectures” (Thursday, April 28, 2011, 11:00 – 12:00 Swiss time) we will provide models of game mechanics and game dynamics and present “exemplary not yet tested ideas” on how to facilitate gamification in an ordinary lecture setting, thus rendering lectures more entertaining and challenging. We’re looking forward to enlightening discussions and thought provoking interactions. Maybe we’ll even play some games ourselves. Who knows… » more: http://eduhub.ch/events/webinars/11april28-gamemechanics/

  • Cpwhalen

    Great article! Although I am not an educator it is clear to me that gamification can make learning more engaging for students. By rewarding students (or anyone) for their work and allowing students to essentially “level up” based upon their effort, learning can be much more fun. When used correctly, gamification techniques can make almost any activity more engaging. People are finally beginning to see merits of gamification online, in the classroom, and at the workplace, which is why it has become such a hot topic as of late.

    -Connor
    (currently working on an open source gamification platform for websites)
    http://www.cloudcaptive.com/
    http://code.google.com/p/userinfuser/

  • Anonymous

    as an anthropologist and professor of digital media who works with serious games, culture, and communication – the premise of can gamification boost learning always strikes me as a little sensationalist. you are quite right that gamification is a buzzword and though you nod that there are game mechanics in education, you really gloss by them pretty quickly.

    it isn’t a surprise, really. those mechanics are so fundamental, recognizing them can be like appreciating that there is air around you. but educational and pedagogical systems are the foundation for entire genres of games, they inspired games that have been played for not just years, but centuries. kind of ironic to gamify something like that, don’t you think?

    pretty much all social and cultural systems have game componentry, theories and mechanics. where there are rules and outcomes, there are game elements. they just may not be fun to play — and in the instance of education — the realness of the risk and outcomes are probably the reason why. gamification works in fun little sites because the investment is casual, there’s no risk in dying because i can start over. it’s fun to play war, but being in real war is horrible and people who think it is fun are considered psychotic by normal standards.

    education is not pretend, it has real consequences. there are cultural issues that can be addressed, but it is not a rebranding exercise. the perception of merits, scoring, ranking, and the eventual win scenario can only be adjusted on the players terms. even if you make an A a merit badge, it is still an A, and the price of failure is still an F — and the value of those currencies is set by the players who have won them.

    • Anonymous

      You make some valid points, but I also feel that you gloss over the use of gamification as a tool in current education. As a high-school teacher I find that I really struggle to compete with the instantaneous nature of the sorts of technology being used by mys students. The question I feel they asre asking is “Why shoud I work in the classroom at skills that I don’t fully comprehend, to only find out if I really get it after a (at best) once weekly test? Why not play games and engage in on-line activities in which I get rewarded for participation almost instantaneously?”.
      If gamification technology can start to reward students for meaningful, current and active participation in their education, then they may start to appreciate that we (as teachers and parents) value the hard work tHat they put into their work.

      • Anonymous

         you don’t need any extraordinary technology to turn something into a game, which is what gamification is. as mary poppins put, you just need a spoonful of sugar.

        very successful games require no more technology than a paper or pencil, or a set of dice, and elaborate alternate reality games can be played just with text messaging. competing with shiny things for attention is different than gamification, and harnessing the power of media with deep engagement potential is also different. not all games gratify players instantaneously, many extremely challenging and thoughtful turn-based games are very slow but can also be intensely engaging and elaborate.

        one of the things we tend not to address in evaluating and comparing game systems to real systems is the unique and individual experience that environment and players create each time a game is played. education is one system that is increasingly standardized. but there are room for games: make your students play a game against each other. see what happens. do you role play in your classes? are there stakes worth winning? do students need to think creatively to develop win strategies? that’s what makes games fun and not frustrating.

        successful games combine basic emotions and instincts in some combination that people relate to on a primal level. seek out the very short and easy read “on the way to fun” about emotional and behavioral game frameworks. the first section will be very relevant and useful in constructing any kind of game. game designers work everything out on paper first. and very fun and rewarding games can happen in your mind. 

  • http://profiles.google.com/henley.chiu Henley Chiu

    I think gamification in education will work if the “level system” can be carried over forever. If I become a level 30 hero in a course, and it doesn’t carry over after it’s over, I’m gonna feel disapppointed. Perhaps, this should be the new resume. Instead of asking people, what’s your GPA, ask them what level are you?

    But I agree with darth – adding badges, and levels won’t solve the problem of motivation in education for the long-term. You can’t force people to want to learn, it has to be intrinsic. Gamification won’t enhance that intrinsic motivation at all. Rather, you need a system that makes sure people feel like they are progressing in LIFE, not just a class.

  • http://www.perfectscoreproject.com Debbie Stier

    I am not motivated by badges and fans, but I do like to see charts & graphs going in the right direction.

  • Alice Leung

    Fantastic article. I’m currently implementing gamification in my Year 10 class and I can YES, points and badges to make learning more engaging. I’ve turned the topic I’m doing into a game with different ‘quests’. Each quest has a group of worksheets and each worksheet has a certain amount of points attached to it, depending on the level of difficulty. When students complete the worksheet, they submit it for marking and get their points. Students are working in teams to do this and I’ve got a leaderboard in the classroom that shows which team is ranked first, second, etc. Once the team have completed all the worksheets in a quest they get an achievement badge and a password that allows to level up to the next quest.

    I have never had so much work being submitted from a class. The class is so enthusiastic to complete the work so they can be ranked first on the leaderboard and be first to get an achievement badge. And because they are completing and submitting work so often it allows me to better gauge their progress. So I guess gamification has enhanced formative assessment in my situation.

    • http://twitter.com/emmajw717 Emily Huff

      What gamification platform are you using?

  • http://www.uboost.com Dayna

    Educators use our gamification tools in their classrooms and in online learning settings to increase student engagement, motivation, and ultimately, performance.  Effective programs reward key inputs or behaviors that are linked to student success frequently and consistently. These behaviors include attending classes, completing homework, completing  Xnumber of questions, reading Xnumber of passages/books, or scoring a specified percentage on an activity. Adding stretch goals in the form of status levels and badges that unlock new features and rewards provides the necessary amount of “challenge” to  make learning more enjoyable.
     
    Focusing on key basic behaviors makes it easy for learners to grasp and experience success or competency early, when it is most important.  When learners feel competent, they become more engaged and interested and often willing to help others.