Online and distance learning has often been used to maintain continuity in education (such as in emergencies or unforeseen situations that disrupt the status quo, for example in the aftermath of earthquakes). However, the longevity and global impact of the Covid-19 crisis has made some educators consider whether the forced shift to digital-first education represents a more permanent change.
Because education has always been centered around in-person interactions and sharing of knowledge, many institutions may well be keen for an immediate retreat to the traditions of the physical classroom. Ensuring that students fully understand learning materials and stay engaged, while also meeting their mental, emotional and social needs, is uniquely difficult when all the teaching is delivered online.
Like it or not, remote learning is here for the long haul; teachers and institutions should now be seriously considering the ways in which they can meet these crucial requirements in the longer term. Even in the future when Covid-19 is far behind us, remote instruction can be an excellent means of providing a fully flexible or supplementary curriculum to students.
This is where gamification steps in.
What is gamification?
Gamification is the use of game-design elements and principles outside of a traditional gaming context. A good example of this is app-based learning, where students can win virtual trophies and virtual currency to progress through to more advanced levels as they engage with a platform. Applications like these can provide students with novel and fun learning opportunities as well as a more stimulating experience overall – something that can pay dividends when it comes to retained knowledge, sustained engagement and even social interaction between students.
Whilst typical game elements are by no means new, they are becoming increasingly common in non-game contexts. Areas where gamified learning is thriving include websites, digital marketing initiatives, enterprise applications and even productivity tools. Most people will already be familiar with gamified learning in educational contexts too, given that apps like Duolingo and Coursera are popular with people who are revising for exams or self-directed learning.
But what is it that makes learners so invested in these games? Research has shown that video games have been linked to dopamine production, which has often been labelled the ‘feel good’ chemical, which can be quite addictive to many people. This association makes individuals more likely to stay invested, seeking out new opportunities to climb up the learning leaderboard and earn more points, in search of that feeling of accomplishment.
How can I use gamification?
It stands to reason that educators can harness gamified technologies to ensure that students are motivated to learn in a remote context, even beyond the lifespan of the current Covid-19 pandemic.
Sustaining concentration over a full day of online classes, let alone an entire week, is a difficult task; teachers should consider what subjects and topics their students are struggling to keep up with and consider implementing the appropriate tech.
Putting gamified elements in place doesn’t necessarily mean having to develop a new and bespoke solution; it can be as simple as utilising an interactive quiz to consolidate learning materials, allowing students to put their new-found knowledge to the test.
Apps that mimic traditional quizzes or flash cards can be very useful as a form of retrieval process – this is firmly rooted in learning sciences as a method to help students recall and retain new knowledge.
A summative analysis of over 200 experiments conducted across 70 years suggests that these technologies can boost the retrieval practice (that is when learners prompt themselves to remember), making students more likely to recall and learn new content than if they were to flip through some written notes. Whether it’s a quiz, a set of flashcards, or a game, individuals can become more proactive about consolidating their learning.
Another suggestion that educators may find helpful is including gamified apps in their lesson plans, rather than just setting this sort of activity as homework or an extension task. Language teachers, for example, may want to allocate a portion of their lesson to encouraging students to use an app like Duolingo.
Perhaps the class is centred around students gaining some new vocabulary to discuss what they like to do in their spare time – selecting a relevant module in the app and making this part of the lesson may lessen Zoom fatigue.
Students will be able to compete against one another, and instead of being deterred if they make a mistake, they might be more inclined to keep going so that they can progress to the next level and proudly display their achievements. Here, any failures are a source of feedback and learning. Groups or pairs of students can work together too, competing in teams – thus enhancing the class dynamic.
These initiatives make life easier for teachers too. Often, app-based or gamified learning presents students with clear objectives, ensuring that learning and assessment are tightly integrated. This takes a lot of time and complexity out of the lesson planning process, as well as being an effective way to monitor progress.
Ultimately, gaining new knowledge should no longer be associated with boredom and routine. Gamification presents students and teachers alike with new opportunities to learn in a fun and engaging way – no doubt, these technologies will help even the most reluctant learners to stay on track.