Game on! The power of gamification in education

Gamification has already made significant strides in education in recent years and is increasingly being recognised as a valuable part of mainstream education programmes.
Industries: Education
  • What exactly is gamification?
  • What are the benefits of gamification in education?
  • Disadvantages of gamification in education
  • Some practical examples of how gamification is used
  • Interesting facts and figures
  • The future of gamification in education

What would happen if we applied more gaming elements in education? Well, for one, it would definitely make learning much more fun. But games can offer us many more benefits. They engage and challenge us. They inspire collaboration, ensure that we absorb and retain new information better, and enable us to progress quicker and more efficiently. Many of our regular daily activities are, in fact, already gamified. It makes our lives more interesting and motivates us to carry out certain tasks. Lots of dating and social media sites, for instance, show a progress bar to indicate what we still need to do to complete our profile and receive upgrades or rewards. Another example: the speedometers in traffic that reward us with a green smiley if we stick to the maximum speed limit. Gamification is also increasingly used in education. This generation of digital natives grew up with digital technology and has a completely different learning style. It is therefore important that education is tailored to their preferences, requirements, and needs. And more and more educational institutions are aware that gamification can play an important role in achieving exactly that.

This generation of digital natives grew up with digital technology and has a completely different learning style. It is therefore important that education is tailored to their preferences, requirements, and needs.

What exactly is gamification?

Gamification has been around for several decades, but has only recently developed into a significant trend. Gamification refers to the use of game elements in a certain context to make tasks more fun and to encourage engagement. Gamification lends itself perfectly to current and future education, where it can, for example, be used in e-learning. Online lessons can be made more interesting and interactive by integrating things like quizzes, polls, leaderboards, and games. Gamification encourages critical thinking skills, teaches students to collaborate effectively, promotes concentration, and can positively influence student behaviour during lessons. Thanks to gamification, students are often not even aware that they are learning. 

What are the benefits of gamification in education?

Implementing game elements ensures that students are completely immersed in the learning material, engage with it on a deeper level, and have more fun learning. Game elements also help to set clear individual or collective goals, and motivate students to work towards them. Thanks to gamification, learning paths can also be adapted to the goals and challenges achieved. While students play the games, large amounts of specific data are generated and collected, which enables teachers to gain insight into the topics and tasks that students might struggle with. This offers opportunities for students to spend more time on these topics or tasks, or for the assignments within the games to be adjusted to the student’s pace or skill level. This information is also very valuable for generating comprehensive personal evaluations. Another advantage of gamification is that by playing games, students produce dopamine – the ‘reward hormone’, and endorphins, which are also known as ‘happiness hormones’. These enable them to work in a more relaxed and focused manner.

Because games often consist of several levels, students can monitor their progress in the game themselves. And if they reach a higher level or achieve certain goals, they can be rewarded with points or badges, or for example gain access to a new world, a different character, or new challenges. These extra functions can be related to certain teaching material: the higher the level a student reaches, the more knowledge (of the teaching material) he or she needs in order to continue to perform well on the following assignments.

Another advantage of gamification is that it allows for more direct and more extensive feedback – such as after completing an assignment or task, for example. This enables students to learn from their mistakes more quickly. They can also see for themselves whether their performance is improving and compare their results with those of their peers. This not only leads to healthy competition among the students but also results in more self-confidence and perseverance. Another benefit is that gamification can be applied to students of all ages and with different needs. The games can, for instance, be tailored to individual learning levels, making the classroom a more inclusive environment in which every individual can reach his or her full potential.

Disadvantages of gamification in education

Gamification in education also has a number of drawbacks. For example, introducing game elements can potentially also have a negative effect on attention span and concentration. The direct, extensive feedback it offers is not necessarily an advantage either, as it can lead to students expecting this in other situations as well, such as in further education or in their future work environment. Moreover, not all students find the games interesting, which means that rewards are also less effective for these students, or not effective at all. Furthermore, the high tempo associated with the gamification method can lead to reduced concentration in different environments. Students who are used to experiencing many stimuli simultaneously might, as a result, become more easily distracted in a less stimulating environment.

Another challenge is that it is not always easy to create and adapt the games. And it is important that the teaching material is constantly reflected in the games, otherwise they serve no purpose within the learning environment. Developing and adapting the games at a later stage is not only time-consuming but a costly affair as well. It is also important that the results achieved during the games are adequately translated into concrete grades and other assessments that are typically part of traditional education systems. After all, students ultimately do need to meet certain established requirements. In addition, there is also the software and hardware challenge. In order for the games to function properly, schools – and students themselves – will need access to certain software programmes, and of course hardware like PCs (or laptops or tablets) and special headsets.

Furthermore, teachers need to be trained in the use of the gamification method, and the systems and games themselves need to be periodically updated. Another challenge is that the aspect of competition is not always beneficial. In fact, it could potentially cause friction and disagreement among students and even lead to performance anxiety and stress. The feeling of having to win can take over to such an extent that the actual learning becomes less important. One final drawback, and an important point of consideration for teachers and schools, is that gamification also enables students to circumvent the rules and cheat. So-called ‘cheat codes’ can be used to skip certain steps, take shortcuts, and unlawfully unlock new functions or collect rewards.

Some practical examples of how gamification is used

Gamification is already being used in all kinds of educational institutions. Here are some interesting practical examples.

Game didactics at the Hogeschool Utrecht (HU) in the Netherlands

At the Hogeschool Utrecht in the Netherlands, gamification is already being systematically used. A minor on gamification has been part of the teacher training courses at the university of applied sciences for a number of years, and a course has now also been developed in which ‘game didactics and game mechanics’ take centre stage. For example, during the course ‘Game methodology for teachers: create your own game’, students can design their own educational game. They are assisted in this process by teachers who also have experience with gamification and who already apply the methodology within their own lessons. In this way, aspiring teachers are passed on knowledge from experienced educators with whom they can explore the theme even more extensively. The aim is for students to be able to use this method themselves as soon as they have completed their studies and start working as a teacher.

Virtonomics at Vilnius University in Lithuania

At Vilnius University in Lithuania, the game ‘Virtonomics’ is used during quality management classes. The game teaches students business and entrepreneurial skills by enabling them to compete with each other and maximise profits from their ‘companies’. The storyline revolves around economic and business interests and challenges students to use the available resources and knowledge as effectively as possible. The game is very realistic and the students’ companies function just like real companies in the offline world. Students got to present their virtual companies to representatives and other experts from some of the major brands in the business world, sharing what they had learned and achieved in the process. The experts then shared their own knowledge and perspectives, and even made virtual investments.

Ecology and Extend Education

Ecologi, an organisation committed to protecting the environment and combating climate change, indicates that gamification can be a great tool to inform people about the climate crisis in an engaging way and motivate them to come up with ideas to help improve the situation. Users of the ‘ecological games’ can set goals that are visible on their profile. This makes the personal challenge more concrete and encourages them – by ‘competing’ with others – to achieve their goals as quickly as possible. These games could also be very effective in education to create awareness and allow students to brainstorm about ways to combat climate change. Ecologi is already collaborating with various stakeholders in the education sector and has developed several games that are suitable for implementation in education.

Gamification and communication apps for special education

For students who have difficulties with the traditional education system, such as students with autism or concentration problems, it is important to incorporate alternative or complementary teaching methods, such as gamification. For these students, clarity and repetition is important, and this is easier to achieve through the implementation of game elements. There are communication apps for special education as well, which are known as AAC (Alternative and Augmentative Communication) apps. The gamification features in these apps help students with these special needs to communicate better, without feeling pressured. One of these apps is Proloquo2Go, a tool specially designed to help students with a speech impediment to communicate better. Among other things, Proloquo2Go offers options to choose from different voices and accents, so that the users can personalise the app to meet their specific requirements and preferences.

Quizzes, leaderboards, badges and escape rooms

Within gamification, quizzes, badges, leaderboards, and escape rooms are popular tools to help keep students motivated.

Quizzes and polls

Quizzes help students activate their prior knowledge and independently apply the lesson content. Teachers can use existing quizzes or create their own. Quizalize enables educators to add audio clips, video content, PDF files, and other curriculum-based elements to personalise quizzes on a student-by-student basis as well as on a class-level basis. The University of Chicago’s (UChicago) Poll Everywhere enables educators to hold polls during class. This tool offers various ways in which students and teachers can get to know each other better, and also provides insight into students’ opinions on and knowledge of certain topics. With this game element, the university hopes to enthuse and motivate students more.

Leaderboards

A leaderboard is basically a type of scoreboard that enables students to track their progress and see what they – and fellow students – have achieved. The use of leaderboards can turn learning into a kind of friendly competition. Teamwork and motivating others are other important aspects that can be encouraged using this tool. Leaderboards can be combined with badges or titles like ‘expert’ or ‘specialist’. Moodle, an open source software platform for e-learning environments, has developed leaderboard features like ‘Level Up!’, through which students can view their progress in points. The points are earned with assignments and tests and added together, which results in a ‘ranking’ on a leaderboard. This enables both teachers and students to make their own comparisons, based on which the learning strategy can be adapted.

Badges

Badges, which can be compared to medals, can also lead to more effort, motivation, participation, and involvement. As opposed to the ever-changing leaderboards, badges are permanent. They can be linked to different levels of difficulty, which helps to continuously challenge students and keep them motivated throughout their learning journey. This appears to be a successful addition to the standard rating system. For example, educational institutions using the Canvas learning management system can use the Badgr platform to create badges for specific occasions and achievements. The Career Centre at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) uses Badgr to provide students with credentials for achieving specific learning goals. Students can add the badges to online documents or platforms like LinkedIn to give future employers more information about what they have achieved and maximise their chances in the job market.

Escape rooms

In an educational setting, escape rooms can promote skills like teamwork and creative thinking. An escape room can, among other things, offer students a realistic work-related experience, during which they need to solve certain issues and learn to analyse challenges step by step. The assignments can be made as complicated or extensive as the teachers and students want them to be, and either take place online or offline. The Mathematics Institute at the University of Oxford has developed an escape room in which students (from the final stage of secondary education or the early stage of higher education onwards) are tasked with the recovery of a stolen portrait of Henry Savile. Knowledge of mathematics is not necessary but will definitely be an advantage, as the identity of the thieves as well as the place where they hid the portrait can be discovered by solving mathematical problems. This enables participants to learn more about the type of mathematical research conducted within the institute.
And Utrecht University has created a mobile pop-up escape room that can be moved to different faculties. The escape room enables teachers to learn more about the use of gamification within the curriculum, and is based on a storyline in which a student is locked up in a virtual world. Teachers are invited to the launch of this student’s new ‘company’ within the virtual world: ‘MasterMind’. The teachers have to free the student within an hour, and to achieve this they have to work with different codes and solve puzzles. These have been incorporated into a special test programme and a selection of university teaching tools. After fulfilling their mission, the teachers can reflect on their personal experiences and provide feedback.

Some 67 per cent of students say they find gamified learning more motivating and engaging than traditional education.

Intuition

Interesting facts and figures

In education, the goal of gamification is to encourage learning excellence among students. Gamification features will be increasingly integrated in leading learning management systems (LMS) or offered as add-ons, for corporate training as well as for educational purposes at schools, colleges, and universities. Here are some interesting statistics about gamification in education.

  • Gamification is one of the top 10 must-have features of a learning management system. (Source: ProProfs)
  • Some 67 per cent of students say they find gamified learning more motivating and engaging than traditional education. (Source: Intuition)
  • Between 2019 and 2024, game-based learning in higher education will experience 15.4 per cent growth. (Source: Metaari)
  • Challenge-based gamification in education leads to an increase of almost 35 per cent in student performance. (Source: ScienceDirect)
  • Students who received challenge-based gamification education raised their performance by up to 89 per cent compared to those who only followed traditional lectures. (Source: ScienceDirect)

The future of gamification in education

The days of traditional education and classroom learning are numbered. Traditional teaching systems are ready for innovation and there is an urgent need to pay more attention to students’ wishes and requirements. The need for gamification within education, and with it the market for this teaching method, is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years. In fact, gamification has already made significant strides in education in recent years and has been recognised as a valuable part of mainstream education programmes.

The rapid digitisation, large-scale interest in gamification and other educational technology, and the associated growth of the worldwide market for these technologies, will mean that more and more opportunities will emerge in this space. A growing number of schools, for instance, are deciding to use the metaverse for education, and are already investing in the necessary tools, programmes and game materials to make this happen. The metaverse offers unprecedented opportunities in the field of gamification in education, where everyone can learn in a fully digital universe. Jon Radoff, CEO of Beamable, a company committed to supporting game makers, even states that “the metaverse is real gamification”.

In whichever way people wish to continue to develop [their skills] after their education, gamification will not only help make lifelong learning possible but fun as well, and this pleasure in learning doesn’t ever need to disappear.

As a result of the increasing implementation of gamification and the relatively high degree of autonomy associated with it, students will increasingly ‘play’ the leading role in their own learning process – from kindergarten to the end of a follow-up study. In the future, the entire school period might feel like a game in which playful ways of learning, discovering, and developing will take centre stage. Even after completing a degree and upon entering the labour market, young adults will continue to be exposed to gamification. Graduate students who have already found work may, for instance, decide to take additional education, training or refresher courses in which gamification will very likely play an important role. The same will probably be true for conferences and seminars employees will attend. 

In whichever way people wish to continue to develop [their skills] after their education, gamification will not only help make lifelong learning possible but fun as well, and this pleasure in learning doesn’t ever need to disappear. In fact, it is likely to lead to many innovative and positive changes in all kinds of sectors – and in society as a whole. In the future, gamification will take on an increasingly prominent role in our daily lives. A number of crucial steps are already being taken in this regard.

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