The concept of gamification has really picked up steam over the past few years in education. Gamification is the use design elements from traditional games within a curriculum. Examples of gamification include the use of badges, leveling up, progress bars, hit points, etc. As students focus on acquiring the various rewards in the gamification experience they also learn the content. In other words, gamification is primarily behavioral in nature.
The idea of gamification is not completely new. Many adults can remember earning stickers and or points for excellent behavior as a child. Gamification, however, tends to be focused on the online/ technology context. Instead of earning stickers like students in the 1980’s and 90’s today’s students can earn badges online in their schools learning management system as an example.
It may be clear that there are some pros and cons to gamification and these will be addressed below.
- Engagement-Nothing motivates a student like playing a game. The badges and points in gamification often heighten engagement at least temporarily for many students.
- Feedback-Through leveling up and earning badges students are provided with instant feedback. If they are unsuccessful it is readily apparent and there is no need to wait for teacher feedback.
- Technology exposure-Gamification is focused in a technology domain. As such, it is a great way to help students to develop their technology skills.
- Attention span-Games are often fast-paced. However, the real world is not often moving at the same speed. This can lead kids to struggle with everyday tasks that have not been gamified.
- Assessment-Often the game serves as a platform to master a skill. However, the nuanced nature of grading can be difficult to apply to a gamified learning experience. In addition, the game may not always transfer to actual real-world skill, which further impairs grading. The focus on gaming often makes the learning take a backseat.
- Cost/logistics-The cost of using software and other materials can be high. Even if you use a free system, such as Moodle, there is the logistics of setting up the badge system in your online platform.
- Work ethic-A critical skill that students need to acquire is how to do something they don’t like to do. Gamification can make almost anything fun. However, in the actual world, there are a little of boring things that people have to do. Students must develop the discipline to engage in an activity because it needs to be done rather than because it’s fun.
The appropriate use of gamification is dependent on the extent to which it is used. Having a progress bar in a course probably will not influence attention spans detrimentally. However, more complex gamification is probably where you will start to see problems as shared in the con section.
Therefore, an appropriate analogy would be to compare gamification to salt. A little bit of salt makes food taste better. However, too much salt can ruin the food and impact the health of the eater. As such, a little gamification can enrich a learning experience but heavy doses could harm learning and perhaps character development.