According to Karl Kapp (2012, pp. 10), an Instructional Design Doctorate and widely published author on the topic of learning and instruction, “Gamification is using game-based mechanics, aesthetics and game thinking to engage people, motivate action, promote learning, and solve problems” (Kapp, 2012). Gamification, or games based learning (GBL) as referred to when utilising actual games, is at its core, a persuasive mechanism that attempts to positively influence and reward “players”, by offering both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, in order to engage and make enjoyable the act of learning, training, and changing behaviour (Blohm & Leimeister, 2013; Abdul Jabbar, A. & Felicia P., 2015).
When it comes to modern classrooms, unlike in previous generations, students are now highly connected individuals that have never known a world without computers, video games, smartphones, or ready access to information on the Internet; and as such do not respond well to traditional lectures and passive participation that has served educators so well in the past (de Freitas and de Freitas, 2013; Trybus, 2014). Moreover, de Freitas and de Frietas (2013, pp. 188) find that current students now crave interactive content and active learning processes, expect the use of technology, and will generally describe feeling bored or prone to distraction when faced with traditional teaching methods (de Freitas & de Freitas, 2013).
In a number of recent studies, groups that had their learning methodologies supplemented with games and game-thinking activities, generated significantly more ideas, and were more creative with their ideas, than those groups that performed the same task without gaming intervention (Kalinauskas, 2014). According to research by Kim (2015, pp. 58), 95.8% of students in one study indicated that they looked forward to days where they learning with technology, and 87.2% further indicated that the use of technology and GBL made learning easier and improved the quality of the work they were producing (Kim, 2015). Games based learning, when considered as a broad set of enhancements to existing pedagogical frameworks, provides a number of benefits over traditional learning methods and ultimately provides educators and trainers with additional ways to deliver content, increase learner engagement, and improve learner attitudes and participation in the classroom.
While the use of gamification in schools is a relatively new area of research, the elements of gamification have been around for many years and are proven effective by businesses in incentivising employees, engaging new customers, and building brand loyalty (Kapp, 2012). According to statistics released earlier this year (2015), over forty percent (40%) or the world’s largest organisations are expected to have now applied gamification as part of business operations, with most citing the proven success of the the mechanism in positively influencing behaviour, improving learning, and fostering social interaction (Blohm & Leimeister, 2013).
Gamification is also not just about the act of playing established or traditional games, but rather introducing game elements and rewards that are typically responsible for the continued involvement and replay value of games; where, for example, the act of using a service like Nike+ might serve the purpose of exercising regularly and improving fitness, but uses points, rewards, and social leader boards to create competition and motivation that drives the service’s users (Kim, 2015; Blohm & Leimeister, 2013). Other examples of gamification in everyday lives include using a coffee loyalty card, swiping for frequent flyer points, receiving badges or additional benefits for completing processes within a service, obtaining discounts on insurance by using “safe driver” devices or apps, or even learning to play the guitar using “edutainment” titles such as Rocksmith (Blohm & Leimeister, 2013; Kalinauskas, 2014). Games and gamification, thanks to the ubiquitous nature of technology, service design, and marketing, are now everywhere, and already established as a part of modern society (Kapp, 2012).
With regards to educational uses of gamification, there are already well-established uses of serious games (SG) in training centres, businesses, medical and pilot schools, the military, as well and aged care, and physiotherapy centres; where digital applications that focus on training, education, information delivery, communication, and enhancing cognitive and physical functions are employed, rather than just those having been created for entertainment purposes (Robert et al., 2014; Trybus, 2014). The use of GBL has proven as an effective method of allowing users to explore and experiment, experience and repeat scenarios, make and learn from mistakes, practice and perfect procedures, and do so in a risk-free environment that can initially take the place of high risk activities and environments, live machinery, electronics, chemicals, or those that would simply be too expensive to operate for training purposes (Trybus, 2014).
However, despite the studies supporting the potential and successes of gamification, there is still an ongoing debate as to the pedagogical efficacy of GBL and gamification, with particular opposition to the use of digital games and interactive simulations as learning tools (Clark, 2013; Rondon, Sassi & Furquim De Andrade, 2013). The main issue regarding acceptance of GBL in schools, is the current lack of clear definition of the terms and taxonomy for game-based activities; where, unlike the serious games used by some businesses, educators are concerned about the lack of appropriate games and activities, the distractions potentially introduced by incorrect selection of games or activities, and question how it might be possible to effectively produce and measure the desired learning objective outcomes from any game that is selected (Blohm & Leimeister, 2012; Clark, 2013; Freitas & Freitas, 2013; Jensen, 2012).
At this point in time, the majority of studies have focused on providing reasons as to why gamification or games-based learning is not more beneficial to learning than traditional teaching methods, despite various meta-analysis of these studies concluding that suitably selected GBL activities do actually provide more opportunities for engagement and creativity than traditional teaching methods, and while delivering comparable test scores and knowledge gains when measured both immediately after the learning method application, and with long-term post-test reviews (Clark, 2013; Kalinauskas, 2014; Rondon, Sassi & Furquim De Andrade, 2013). While it is true that not all games are suitable for teaching, the same argument can be made regarding the selection of traditional teaching resources, or teaching mechanism such online learning and lectures; making the selection of effective and appropriately designed resources and activities the key to unlocking the benefits of gamification and GBL (Clark, 2013; Kapp, 2013).
As studies suggest that students of the current generation expect the use of technology in every aspect of their lives, and as suitable application of GBL appears to produce comparable results in group assessment scores, the use of gamification as a complementary educational resource is both worthwhile and an increasingly important pursuit for educators: providing students with additional opportunities to enhance their learning experience and outcomes with the use of education technology, while improving engagement and task completion rates (Rondon, Sassi & Furquim De Andrade, 2013).
Liu, Rosenblum, Horton, and Kang (2014), citing research by James Gee in his 2003 book ‘What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy’, add that: games are fun to play; students having fun are deeply engaged with the activity; and that student engagement, particularly through authentic and meaningful experiences within media-rich or role-play scenarios, cultivates greater opportunities for the students to learn (Liu, Rosenblum, Horton & Kang, 2014). Compared with more traditional teaching methodology, the use of games, interactive simulations, and game-based learning (GBL) have demonstrably resulted in higher levels of engagement, improved cognitive gains, and yielded better attitudes towards the learning process (Kapp, 2012).
In conclusion, gamification and GBL is not a replacement or trivialisation of traditional learning, but simply a modern tool that can provide educators with additional opportunities to assist students in exploring and learning new concepts via a mechanism that they are already familiar with, enjoy, and are deeply engaged with. Not all games or gamification elements are suitable for use in schools, however with careful taxonomy and research, it is possible for educators to help students get much more from the experience, than just the delivery and memorisation of subject matter. When suitably selected GBL activities are introduced to the classroom, as an enhancement to existing pedagogy and in place of delivery methods such as lectures, students react positively to the learning experience, are engaged with the lesson, show improved creativity and understanding, and display improved attitudes towards participation in the classroom.
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