By Sarah Moore
This semester I had the opportunity to complete an internship at a private Canadian eLearning enterprise that specializes in developing online learning management systems (LMS) solutions for a wide range of learners, including higher educational institutions. It was through this internship that I became intently aware of and interested in the growing market demand for game-based learning solutions. Through this blog, it is my intention to briefly introduce and discuss the topic of gamified learning, and the ways in which it provides opportunities to enhance students’ experiences.
What is gamified learning anyways?
The term gamification refers to the use of game elements in non-game applications (Muntean, 2011). Previously, gamification has enjoyed popular success in the commercial realm, promoting products and business brands by increasing the user’s experience, loyalty, and engagement (Lee & Hammer, 2011; Dominguez et al., 2013). With the ability to strongly support user engagement and motivation, many educational practitioners and researchers have worked towards applying the principles of gamification to educational contexts, specifically online learning environments, to help address the challenges of student isolation and lack of content engagement (Liaw, 2008). As gamified learning is gaining academic momentum and quickly becoming a popular learning tool for higher ed. institutions, this topic warrants critical attention and academic inquiry.
Gamification: The New Educational Revolution?
Upon reviewing the research, there are many educational advantages associated to incorporating gamification in online learning environments. Central to Lee and Hammer’s (2011) research, gamified learning is beneficial because it motivates students and has a positive influence on their cognitive, emotional, and social development.
1. Cognitive Development
According to Koster (2005), gamified learning provides challenging and complex activities that require students to utilize their prior knowledge to explore new concepts and progress through difficult tasks and challenges. For example, scenario-based learning helps support students’ cognitive development. Leaners work through a series of problems that provide multiple pathways of progression, or possible regression, based on their response. Challenges are tailored to different levels, and as the learner masters the content, they are rewarded and advanced to higher levels of difficulty to expand their skills. As Locke and Latham (1990) report, games that provide multiple pathways and degrees of success allow learners to develop their own learning goals through each activity, thus directly supporting their motivation to pursue and advance their own learning. For post-secondary application, the use of scenario-based learning games provides learners with the opportunity to apply course theory to real-world examples. McGrath & Bayerlein’s (2013) research indicated that students who participated in scenario-based learning found the online gaming environment informative and engaging, and saw their performance rates increase.
2. Emotional Development
Regarding emotional development, students also benefit from gamified learning through success and failure. Positive emotions are associated to students receiving in-game rewards by overcoming challenges and progressing through levels. In contrast, gamified learning also involves students not progressing until the correct learning is achieved. When students fail, they are given immediate feedback, and often provided a formative tip to guide their learning. As Lee and Hammer (2011) state, learners begin to view failure as an opportunity to improve and learn. Thus, students are able to learn from their mistakes, and grow from positive feedback as they become more interested and engaged in their learning progress.
3. Social Development
Lastly, learners are also able to socially develop through adopting and exploring new character identifies and making decisions based upon their assumed identity roles (Squire, 2006, Gee 2008). Additionally, group-learning modes allow students to work towards a collective goal and co-construct knowledge from each other, or compete in learning competitions to achieve the best score (Dominguez et al. 2013).
Gamification: is this just trend?
Although there are many research studies supporting the use of gamified learning in higher education, it has encountered criticism. Radoff and Robertson identified a lack of storytelling, a central gaming element, while others have argued that gamification provides a false sense of achievement (Sweeney, 2013). Additionally, gamification can prove to be costly, time-consuming, and require technical multimedia development (Lee & Hammer, 2011).
The gamification of e-learning undoubtedly provides a unique learning opportunity that encapsulates student engagement and motivation. While I do support the inclusion of gamified learning in higher ed., additional research is still required to analyze the impact on student performance. Gamification is also not a cure-all for boring courses. Educators should ensure gamified learning is implemented for the right reasons, and that it meets the needs of the learners and the school institution. After all, “gamification does not imply creating a game. It means makes education more fun and engaging, without undermining its credibility” (Muntean, 2011, 328).
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Koster, R. (2005). A theory of fun for game design. Scottsdale, Arizona: Paraglyph Press.
Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (1990). A theory of goal setting and task performance. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Liaw, S. (2008). Investigating students’ perceived satisfaction, behavioral intention, and effectiveness of e-learning: a case study of the Blackboard system. Computers & Education, 51(2), 864–873.
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Sweeney, S. (2013, August). Game On? The Use of Gamification in e-Learning. Retreived from http://www.trainingzone.co.uk/blogs-post/game-use-gamification-e-learning/185137
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