College is not a game. But that doesn’t mean games can’t be used to engage students. Gamification is a relatively new word for an old concept. It’s about finding new incentives to guide students on their education journey. Fear of bad grades has never been the best way to motivate students. Gamification, a term that applies almost solely to technology, is a way of engaging students’ competitive drive and applying it to learning.
If you aren’t sure you understand the concept of gamification, consider an example like the popular mobile app Foursquare. Users “check in” when they arrive at businesses, such as restaurants, coffee shops and bookstores, and are awarded points and badges for multiple visits to each location. Visit a location enough times and you can become the virtual mayor. Visit an airport five times and you’ll earn the Jetsetter badge. What exactly do these badges get you? Usually, nothing but the satisfaction of accomplishment.
This might sound like digital nonsense — the kind of stuff that’s melting kids’ brains. But it’s that old-school mentality that could be preventing students from getting everything they can out of their courses. Is gamification a replacement for the traditional method of teaching? No, probably not. Does gamification have a place in higher education? Yes, it probably does.
The Khan Academy has made gamification a top priority, but even president Shantanu Sinha agrees that gamification’s place in education isn’t quite clear:
When we started building the platform behind the Khan Academy, one of the first things we did was bring in the concept of badges and other game mechanics. The reaction has always been interesting. Most people applaud the effort to make learning engaging and rewarding to young users. Others fear it can lead to perverse incentives or can detract from real learning objectives. As with most things, the issue is not nearly that black and white and is far more nuanced.
He also notes that gamification can be successful because it offers a new incentive for students to engage in class:
Most games encourage you to push your own personal boundaries. They provide users a sense of improving themselves, and they provide challenges perfectly suited for them. Imagine if students (or even adults) were always encouraged to improve themselves incrementally. You aren't done after you secure an 'A,' that's just one phase of a never-ending journey of learning and discovery.
Read Shantanu Sinha’s column Motivating Students and the Gamification of Learning on The Huffington Post.
The infographic below outlines how gamification can be applied to education and describes the short history of the gamification of technology in the classroom.
If you are using gamification in your courses, please e-mail us.