What can educators learn from games? For one thing, games have a longstanding track record of keeping people engaged for extended periods of time, even to the point that they lose track of time. This is one of many reasons that a growing number of educators are exploring things like game-based learning, the gamification of learning, or simply what principles we can extract from games and apply to learning environments. With that in mind, if you are involved with education, consider taking one or more of the following “gamification” challenges.
- Make learning “pleasantly frustrating.” This is a powerful attribute of games. In many games, we fail much more than we succeed and yet the game has a way of keeping us engaged, coming back for more, and persisting through the failures in pursuit of that one success. How might we create a learning experience that replicates this?
- Instead of giving assignments, consider giving learners challenges or quests. Which one invites you to step up and give your best? An assignment is something to complete, but a challenge or quest is something to conquer!
- Create a plan for constant and frequent feedback. Games are amazing at this. Rarely a turn or second goes by that players are not getting some sort of feedback about their progress. What would it look like to do the same thing in a lesson or unit of instruction?
- Instead of traditional points and grades, consider giving experience points, badges, or even titles that recognize achievement. When learners achieve, celebrate it with these things and let the learner know. Yes, this is an extrinsic reward, but so are traditional points and grades. The difference is that this gives you a fresh perspective on the learning environment and a chance to build distinct affirmations related to specific student performance. It allows you to create a culture that recognizes goal-oriented achievement and not just letter grades.
- Reward success with a more difficult challenge. In games, the reward is often access to the next level or the next challenge; typically more difficult than the previous one. The fascinating part is that, within a game, the players value such a reward. How can we create learning environments and experiences where this same thing is true?
- Reward risk-taking, creativity, experimentation, and strategic thinking. Most of us in education like to think that we do this, but if we are not careful, it is easy to reward compliance over creativity, following the rules over exploration and divergent thinking, and playing it safe instead of taking calculated risks. What set of skills will best help the learners thrive in the world?
- Give the learner/player the ability to customize the learning experience to match their needs, preferences and style. In many games, players have a good measure of freedom to customize how they go about accomplishing the goals of the game. When proper, why not give learners this same ability?
- Require the learner/player to take constant action. In games, if you do not act, there is no progress. There is very little passive time for the learners/players. Even if you are waiting for your turn, you are strategizing, monitoring the behavior of others, etc. How can you create learning culture where this same constant action is at play?
- Call upon learners to perform their way toward competence. Games do this, but many learning environments do the opposite. They require competence before you get a chance to perform. Putting performance first calls for constant action, provides ongoing and immediate feedback, and much more. While there are certainly some situations where this might not work, consider situations when it is worth trying out.
- Aim for flow. Flow (as explained by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the book by that name) is that situation where you lose yourself in the experience, losing track of time, personal needs, and your full attention is devoted to the task at hand. What would it take for your next lesson or unit to draw learners into flow?
There is no need to agree with or apply all of these. However, if you are up for the challenge, why not try out one of them and see what happens?