Gamification: using game design to encourage learning and provide motivation for students.

Why is it that I feel so uneasy about the claims made for gamification?

Perhaps it’s because some of the curriculum-specific resources that claim to use gamification, and ride on the back of the (fairly scarce) research, in fact are little more than a number of activities whose completion leads to a series of ‘rewards’.  They have not been designed to meet specific learning outcomes, and often  rely on the tag of ‘problem-based learning’ to give them credibility.

Are children really learning?  Certainly they’re engaged, there’s no doubt about that – and that’s definitely a positive.

My problem is that I simply don’t believe that learning happens by stealth.  I don’t think we can ‘trick’ children into learning.

Being engaged, playing a game and getting results doesn’t necessarily result in the transference of any learning into another situation .  Not unless the learning is made specific.  Significant research into learning talks about the importance of sharing learning intentions with children, making sure that they know what it is that they’re learning and helping them to assess later whether or not they have been successful.  Research supports ‘visible’ learning and involving students in the learning process.

Rewards systems are problematic. Yes, I know children like them.  Well, actually, I know that they are liked by children who are likely to be successful. I’m not so sure about the others. Ranking systems are also problematic.  Again, great for the successful children, but not very motivating for those who aren’t successful at high levels.  Any focus on learning is necessarily undermined by this approach.

And we’ve all read the research about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.  We know that intrinsic motivation is much more conducive to learning.  But gamification is all about extrinsic motivation … Those rewards again.

When curriculum-specific gamification resources do more than simply offer superficial instant gratification to students, they can be highly effective – especially when used thoughtfully by teachers who have selected them for sound educational purposes that are transparent to the children.

Aware of the pitfalls associated with gamification, when developing our online literacy resource ( we deliberately stayed away from gamification elements. Instead we use pedagogical strategies that make clear to children what it is that they are learning and encourage multiple attempts to complete the activity before they access an explanation.  After engaging in activities that are intended to consolidate the learning, children are asked to apply that learning in other situations.  Finally they are encouraged to reflect on what they have learned, and how successfully.

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