Gamification – still a hot trend in education?

Carl Sheen, of Genee World, discusses how gamification has developed in education, and how it can continue to engage students

Technology permeates a lot of our day-to-day lives. It’s fair to say that it’s changed the way we live; from the way we shop, work and play to the way we eat, meet people and socialise. Policy-makers are starting to explore the potential benefits of using technology to streamline teacher workload in earnest, and we’ve known for some time that taking something that many children love – games – and using some of the features to support learning can have great benefits. That’s where gamification can come in.

Gamification isn’t new. We’ve been talking about it for some time now, but there’s a danger that talking about it becomes a conversation that boils down to tech versus tradition. It shouldn’t. Gamification isn’t the same as games-based learning. It’s not about using Fortnite to teach mathematics. It’s about using some of the elements of computer games to drive engagement. These could include points systems, levels, bonuses and score tables – all things that children will be familiar with from leisure time spent online and all things that can be effective when it comes to engaging students. They can increase engagement and monitor progress in a less formal way.

With so many benefits, it isn’t a surprise that gamification has evolved to become a key part of educational resources. One of the things that makes it a great tool is that the teacher plays an essential role.

Motivation game

Elements of gamification, such as point scoring, can be a key motivator for students to engage in their learning and development. For example, if the aim is to help a child become more responsible and independent then a game which encourages a child to create a to-do list for the day, earning points when they tick-off a task, is going to be fun and will help the information to stick. Research suggests that we learn best by doing, not just reading.

However, again, gamification in this instance is quite different to game-based learning. Gamification has the key aim of motivating pupils through the feedback loop process, offering direct and quick feedback. Game-based learning, on the other hand, is the idea of designing lessons with a competitive element in mind. Both play an important role in the classroom, and ultimately can lead to students feeling motivated and engaged with their learning. For children, having to wait to find out how they did can be a bit of an anathema; their digital worlds move much faster than ours used to.

The role of devices

The rapid expansion of technology, from touch tables, to tablets, to interactive displays, combined with the various device upgrades over time means that many devices now come with pre-installed educational software. This software often includes elements of game-based learning and offers the opportunity to help teachers weave gamification into their lessons.

For example, teachers can present a lesson at the front of the classroom through their interactive displays and can use a quick summative quiz which the class can complete together. A follow-up activity like this allows for students to interact with their learning, and it can provide the teacher with a quick, up-to-date idea of student progression and their understanding of a particular topic.

Quizzes can be another useful, straightforward tool made instantly more powerful by technology. By using audience-response systems, software allows for students to reply instantly to questions asked by their teacher. Teachers can have total control, with the ability to tailor the questions in relevance directly to the subject. This then feeds back into the software and provides teachers with up-to-date feedback. Again, it is the useful effects of competition in gathering insight that teachers find valuable.

Going beyond this, teachers can also present quizzes in random orders which is perfect for re-tests and also works well for spaced learning. Say the teacher has set the task on the Tuesday and students didn’t score particularly well. The teacher can then revisit the quiz and present it in a different order – not reinventing the wheel or rehashing the same test but simply keeping the students engaged and providing a prompt for their memories.

Carl Sheen

Automated response systems also allow for teachers to personalise certain modules, which means that students can work at their own level and pace. The learners will still be benefiting from the feedback loop process, but it provides them with the opportunity to complete the tasks at different times, removing any pressures learners may feel to answer questions in front of their peers.

There’s no doubt that gamification has benefited the classroom for a long time; we’ve been awarding house points for years now. However, maybe we have overlooked the role it can play in adapting learning for all students, regardless of level, ability or needs. And maybe we’re thinking about it in a binary way. It’s not reliant upon technology, but it can be made more effective with it.

Similarly, the presence of technology in the classroom can make it easier to engage all learners just by streamlining the process of adapting tools and activities. Pre-loaded gamification tools can make it easier to use the theory behind games to capture students’ interests and help make education sticky. The healthy competition and group collaboration aspects can encourage team-working and resilience – key skills for employability as we move into a changing future.

Carl Sheen is Head of Training and Product Development at Genee World