More than just child’s play: the power of gamified learning

Gamified learning empowers students to be creative, driven and proactive

You often hear the term ‘gamified learning’ bandied around the edtech space. But I can assure you, it’s more than just another buzzword. The gamification of learning is an educational approach that bridges the gap between ‘work’ and ‘play’ by introducing game elements into learning environments. Like learning through play, gamification makes processes interactive, engaging and memorable, resulting in a greater intake of knowledge and a higher retention of information. Gamified learning is the future of education.

In short, this kind of learning aims to make the challenging parts of knowledge acquisition more enjoyable to complete. Whether it’s through point scoring or peer competition, team exercises or progress levels, gamifying experiences is an educational strategy that motivates and engages students using a hands-on approach. Much like a competitive streak can help you through a sporting match, or a desire to please teammates might fuel your stamina during a long night in the office, having clear motivating factors drives your determination to achieve goals. This premise is the backbone of gamified learning. 

Why is educational gamification so effective? 

In essence, gamification is effective because learning through play taps into raw human emotion. The rollercoaster of feelings that can be experienced when playing games – intrigue, thrill, achievement, frustration, uncertainty etc. – can be leveraged within a learning context to pique interest and maintain participation. Children are born with an urge to play. Incorporating this instinct into learning makes for a dynamic and fun experience, which is bolstered by an array of positive cognitive effects, including improved concentration, information processing and long-term memory. 

Whether it’s through point scoring or peer competition, team exercises or progress levels, gamifying experiences is an educational strategy that motivates and engages students using a hands-on approach

Unlike the banality of worksheets or the dichotomy of red crosses and green ticks, gamified learning and learning through play work to create relaxed environments in which students feel safe to explore and make mistakes. These educational approaches redefine the outdated notion that failure is something to avoid. Instead, learners are encouraged to understand that errors are an integral part of the educational process. Similarly, students that feel comfortable in the knowledge that mistakes are inevitable – and in fact, often productive – are also more likely to take risks and think outside the box, which nurtures dynamic and creative thinking (two skills relevant for any career path). 

The pandemic’s effect

Like many areas of education, the pandemic has affected the relevance of gamified learning. In the face of widespread lockdowns, people worldwide were forced to move their lives online, from studying and socialising, to shopping and staying up to date. This merging of life and the internet has resulted in a greater use of interactive games as teaching tools, harnessing the digital, creative and interactive breadth of the web. 

Similarly, the COVID-related spike in collective screen time has further increased our reliance on the internet, as well as the integration of games into our daily lives. According to The Guardian, in the UK website and app visits were up 100% in January 2021 in comparison to January 2020. Ofcom’s Online Nation 2021 Report found that 92% of 16 to 24 year-olds played computer games during the pandemic. As our reliance on the internet has increased, so has the integration of games into our lives. And as a result, gamified learning has reached a new level of relevance and impact. Integrating game-based learning elements into teaching methods is a way of harnessing our love of play and channeling it into something productive.

“Having fun is the best way to learn” – Albert Einstein

The linchpin of gamification theory is that we learn more when we have fun doing it. Raph Koster, author of A Theory of Fun For Game Design, writes that “boredom is the opposite of learning. When a game stops teaching us, we feel bored”. Having ‘fun’ directly impacts how motivated we feel, thus determining what we learn, how quickly we learn it, how much information we will retain and whether we will return again to the subject matter. This philosophy underpins everything we do at imagiLabs, the startup I founded in 2018 to get young girls into coding. From our products and services to our competitions and community, we know that our users learn best when challenge aligns with enjoyment. 

Once upon a time, self-teaching apps tended to lack sticky engagement by nature of being solitary experiences. However, edtech has radically changed in the last few years, and now many websites and apps incorporate a social layer to their gamified offering. At our company, we understand that our target audience – girls aged between 9 and 13 – require a social, interactive and progressive experience in order to stay captivated. For this reason, we have created a dedicated community for our coders, in which designs can be shared, competitions entered, questions asked and tips and tricks given. Our data shows that girls who complete the first six imagiLabs learning games are more than three times as likely to continue using the app beyond the first month than those who complete three or less. 

Gamified learning empowers students to be creative, driven and proactive learners. By infusing tuition with gameplay and a competitive edge, learners can channel their emotional responses from gaming into their motivation to learn, building learner engagement. As a dynamic educational approach with many positive cognitive effects, gamified learning certainly isn’t just child’s play.

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