Gamification Ain’t Just Hyped Fabrication

The notion of play comes from inside, it’s in our nature. And I am not just referring to us humans. Take a look at this clip:

Play and gaming are something we get engaged in just because we want to. Why we want to, that varies a lot. I bet those baby ducks were into sliding just for the thrills, but there can be many other motivators, too. Mastery, prizes, social bonding, intellectual challenges, to name a few.

Gamification and game mechanics are studied a lot these days. Gamification sits right at the top of Gartner’s emerging technology hype cycle in 2013. Whenever a technology is in that position, be aware of what gets said or written about it. After all, it is called a hype cycle.

At the same token, not everything is baloney. There are reasons for a  technology to get up there. That’s also the case with gamification. It is not a silver bullet solving climate change or all economic crises. However, if applied well and in right contexts, it can turn out to be useful. And fun.

Gamification basically means applying game-like mechanics and components in non-game contexts. Such components are for example badges, leaderboards, storylines, and currencies. I am especially interested in applying these things in the domain of education.

Some say games and gamified educational materials can make school fun again. I am not in that camp. First of all, I believe that claiming current school to be “unfun” is mostly a reflection of us adults who went to school in the 80s or before.

Secondly, I think educational materials alone cannot do the trick.  Having fun / enjoying oneself benefits from a safe environment, with engaging social surroundings. Gamified materials can help for sure, but they amount up only a part of the equation.

It all comes down to motivation. How to motivate pupils to learn, that is the key question. If that requires splitting up content into chunks that manifest elements familiar from games, let’s do it! If those chunks can follow each other to form a game-like story, let’s do it more!

I started this post by stating that motivation varies per individual. I like water slides so in that sense I get motivated by similar things as the ducks above. I also like intellectual challenges found e.g. in crossword puzzles. I suspect most ducks don’t.

So gamification is closely related to personalized/adaptive learning. We like to play different games and get motivated by different rewards. Also—and this is important—many of us don’t want to play games, at least not all the time. For them we need to fade out the gamified layer instead of underlining it.

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