While parents will pay for tutors or exam-cramming services – paradigms which they understand intuitively – gamified learning is often viewed with suspicion. Yet gamification is a powerful aid to learning.
Brain chemistry tells us that the anticipation of success is a strong motivator, providing more pleasure than the actual achievement of success. But an anticipated large achievement a long time in the future is a lot less interesting than the anticipation of a relatively small achievement right now.
When we play games, whether it is physical sport, cards or videogames, the positive immersion is total because good stuff can happen at any moment. In education, our big targets such as year-end exams are usually a long way off. So the effort we have to put in to achieve them is not fueled by minute-to-minute positive anticipation. In fact, we tend to dread distant exams rather than look forward to them.
Games can get teenagers to care about what they are learning. Stories and challenges contextualize learning and provide an immediate reason to want to learn. A gamified environment turns negative stress, which hampers learning, into positive motivation, which enhances it.
Learning through game-play has always been celebrated in early childhood education. But a profound presence of gamification in high school education is rare. However, gamification mechanisms built into the architecture of the learning process can significantly improve attention, motivation, understanding and memory.
Sophisticated gamification is not simply about having learners play games – it is a process of threading continuous motivational engagement throughout the learning experience. Gamified learning leverages the intense positive attention that we apply in anticipation of an almost immediate small psychological reward. So it covers a broad canvas of interpretations. Making a scoring mechanism interesting or amusing is gamification, as is adding reward mechanisms like badges or bragging rights. So is designing the visuals of the lessons to be captivating; architecting the learner experience (LX) to be compelling and intriguing; giving instant feedback; allowing learners to know exactly what their status is at any time; and infusing the whole learning experience with excitement, characters and stories. A superbly gamified learner experience has rich layers of motivational experience woven into every second of learning.
The next level up in LX design is crafting epic missions, which break into hundreds of incremental micro-missions – each facilitated by an element of learning from the education curriculum. Your immediate reason for learning becomes succeeding in your mission, not passing the year-end exam – though what you learn en route will get you through the exam.
As educators become more enlightened about gamification, learners can look forward to a new generation of truly helpful motivational learning experiences. And parent and teachers can embrace the concept as a positive accelerator of learning, rather than fearing it as a distraction.