‘Gamifying education doesn’t mean PlayStation lessons’

The positive role gamification can play, especially in remote learning environments

From dedicated tools for special educational needs and language learning, to digital support services for educators and pupils, it goes without saying that education technology has evolved dramatically over the past few decades.

More recently, adoption and awareness of edtech itself has rocketed incredibly throughout 2020 beyond all imagination. This growth has effectively been the next stage of the ecosystem’s evolution.

The ‘Zoom boom’

The pandemic has prompted billions worldwide to adapt personally and professionally. People have altered their daily habits beyond recognition while businesses and industries have had to reassess operations – all of which has led to the so-called ‘new normal’.

At the heart of this upheaval is education; this year saw 1.2 billion learners forced to leave schools and stay home during the first lockdown, shining the spotlight on edtech to prompt fresh interest in the market from parents, students and teachers alike. A prime example of this was demonstrated as App Annie revealed education app downloads grew 90% in a peak week during March versus the weekly average of Q4.

As a result of the lockdown, 65% of UK teaching staff have claimed they feel more confident using edtech now than before COVID-19, according to TeacherTapp. Seemingly, this certainty will only grow further, since 75% of educators expect that blended or remote online learning will continue to be used for teaching.

Kids today will welcome this. They are digital natives, compared to the generations that have come before them. And actually, there’s even a generational gap among teachers themselves. The new ones coming in relate to this classroom evolution in a way that more seasoned staff members don’t, so this is both a challenge and an opportunity.

In my experience I’ve found that, regardless of age, there’s always a progressive, futurist group of teachers who love technology and see the benefits of fusing it with learning, embracing edtech wholeheartedly. On the flip side, there’s often a proportion of educators who prefer the more conventional paper-based form of teaching without digital intrusion.

By no means is either right or wrong – it’s simply what they’re more comfortable with. And evidently, the data has shown becoming accustomed to edtech has been a process for educators who, ultimately, need to undergo fresh learning themselves to understand this model.

Game on

Edtech upskilling means coming to terms with its many different elements, whether that’s video support, learning analytics or otherwise. Gamification is a really fascinating component of the edtech sector. But, considering the hesitation some teachers and parents have around technology mixing with education, throwing the concept of ‘gaming’ into the mix risks adding to those concerns.

So, what exactly is gamification? Well, it isn’t about students picking up console control pads and headsets to veer off into a digital battleground. Gamification is essentially about providing an interactive layer to learning, giving a perhaps rigid experience a playable enhancement to encourage positive outcomes.

“Gamification is essentially about providing an interactive layer to learning, giving a perhaps rigid experience a playable enhancement to encourage positive outcomes”

One of the difficulties of the first lockdown was that students at home experienced a decrease in motivation for learning, which wasn’t entirely unexpected. Teachers recognised this hurdle, too – 43% said keeping students engaged and motivated was the biggest struggle for them, School Education Gateway found.

Operating in different locations meant teachers were unable to pick up on classic classroom cues, such as the furrowed brows of confused students, who then can’t raise their hand for help as they would do ordinarily. This is where gamification comes into its own.

Reward-based gamification, for example, can provide point systems, scoring zones, leadership boards and achievement badges. This approach is an excellent way of actively engaging pupils as they work, especially when a teacher isn’t present, rather than relying on a traditional book.

With this gamified experience, students can see how they’re progressing in real-time and receive feedback as they go, with the accumulation of points offering trackable, almost tangible, evidence of development. When feedback arrives early it has the power to create more impact on pupils because it’s fresh in their minds and they can immediately recognise where they have done well or need to improve.

Ultimately, this is what edtech is all about – providing impactful education improvements for students and teachers alike. New tools may seem daunting, especially with all of the disturbance experienced professionally and personally in recent times. However, this should be regarded as an opportunity to reshape the way things are done in schools because there’s never been a more appropriate moment in the history of learning than now.

The first lockdown and sudden need for remote learning took everyone by surprise. Now this new normal is more than seven months in, it’s crucial not to wait to be disrupted again but to proactively prepare in advance, and that’s where edtech and gamification come into play. Because if we’ve learnt anything this year, it’s that advanced warning won’t be provided when the time to adapt learning arrives. We need to get our head in the game now.

You might also like: Time is key for healing children’s COVID-19 wellbeing wounds


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