This is the fourth and final instalment in our gamification of learning blog mini-series, and in this post we’ll outline everything you need to know about the key elements of a gamified learning environment and why they make learning so captivating for students.
We’ve previously defined the concept of gamification, outlined how it works and then gone on to discuss the different game formats that you can use in the classroom. Part four is the last piece of the puzzle and by the end of the final article you should understand everything you need to know to start using gamification in your classroom!
Goals and objectives
The first gaming elements that we’ll discuss are goals and objectives. Defined goals are arguably the most fundamental aspect of games and gaming. Clear goals and objectives ensure that players have a purpose and focus while playing the game. Goals should be clear and visible; this provides players with feedback on progress and increases motivation. Without a clear goal, it’s impossible for players and learners to understand if their efforts are getting them closer to the overall objective and to ultimately decide who wins the game. Having a clear goal also gives players the autonomy they need in order to achieve the goal in new and creative ways.
Clearly established rules are another essential element of games and gamification. Rules provide the guidelines that players use to achieve the goals. Offering a framework that all players can work within ensures that they compete on a level playing field as they work towards the objectives of the game.
It is a good idea to test out the rules in a pilot session before rolling out your game. This is because humans are endlessly creative and will discover unintentional loopholes and shortcuts within your rules that you may have overlooked when putting the game together.
Conflict and competition
In a gaming setting, conflict refers to a scenario in which players can actively stop each other from succeeding. Competition, refers to when players can focus solely on maximising their own performance and cannot influence the performance of their opponent. Within the gamified learning environment it’s better to use competition rather than conflict so that learners focus on their own performance and are not incentivised to obstruct the learning of others in order to win the game.
Adding a social element to gamification can be highly motivating as individual learners feel that they’re contributing to group progress. Sharing the experience and having an opportunity to discuss the learning can not only make the learning process more enjoyable, but the discussions can also help to reinforce the learning itself. To incorporate cooperation within your game, try splitting a larger group into smaller teams or add in useful resources for players to exchange and barter with in order to gain an advantage.
Games use almost constant feedback as players move through the gamified environment. This feedback typically takes one of three forms
- Conformational feedback – This indicates the degree of ‘rightness’, but does not tell the student how to correct the action.
- Explanatory feedback – Which provides an indication as to what was done wrong.
- Diagnostic feedback – Which tells the player what they did wrong and why, and steers them in the direction of correcting the action.
When you’re developing your gamified learning environment be mindful of what type of feedback you would like to provide your learners with and how this will be delivered. Conformational feedback can be provided within the game via a dead-end or a correct or incorrect answer to a question. Explanatory or diagnostic feedback is slightly more complicated and may need to be provided via cue cards, or by the educator in person.
Rewards and achievements
When implemented properly rewards and achievements can be a powerful motivating factor in the gamification of learning. However, they do need to be implemented carefully as there are a number of common errors that can lead to demotivating learners.
A disproportionate focus on in-game rewards can distract from the learning objectives. When using rewards it is important to be aware of what actions you are trying to incentivise and ensure that these actions are closely linked to the learning objectives.
Points and leaderboards
Points and leaderboards play a crucial part in the gamification experience, allowing learners to monitor their own progress against the learning and game objectives, as well as against other players. Points can be used to unlock levels or additional information and can be an effective part of the reward system.
Displaying player points on a leaderboard provides a chance for players to interact with each other and discuss the game, adding a visible element of competition and an incentive for players to play the game again and again.
When designing leaderboards it’s advisable to keep the number of players involved to small groups. If players perceive that there is no realistic chance of them making the leaderboard, the process can be extremely demotivating. Keeping the groups relatively small means that no player is ever too far from the top.
When developing a game it can be tricky to benchmark the difficulty level in order to keep learners at the proximal level of development. This is where levels come in. By providing multiple difficulty levels it’s possible to integrate players of different abilities, giving your game a broader appeal.
Multiple difficulty levels can be achieved by creating easy, medium and hard questions, or by offering different levels of support for each question. Letting players choose which level they play at can increase engagement as it gives users a level of control over their gaming experience, offering more points for playing at more difficult levels can then incentivise players to push their learning within the game.
It is important that learners are aware of whether their efforts are moving them towards success. As the game designer it’s important for you to actively guide learners towards the learning outcomes you desire. Scoring is a major component of gamification and a very useful tool in helping to achieve these objectives.
When designing a scoring system consider the following aspects:
- The scoring system should be transparent – It should be clear how players can increase their score and how this relates to winning or losing.
- Use scoring to drive behaviour – Players will try to maximise their scores, so it’s important to ensure that, in doing so, players are moving towards the learning objectives.
- Consider using multiple scoring methods simultaneously – There may be more than one type of behaviour that you want to drive. For example, offering points for both speed and accuracy will help to drive one behaviour, without compromising the other.
Implementing Gamification within the Classroom
To implement gamification within the classroom there are several useful guidelines that should be considered:
- Start instructions with action – A long list of text instructions can quickly disengage players (particularly younger students). Starting off with an easy introductory level with the aim of teaching players the game is infinitely more engaging than long paragraphs of text instructions.
- Play some games – To help understand the dynamics and elements discussed in this eBook it will be extremely useful to simply play some games yourself and then try to identify specific elements and think about how you could use these to support the learning objectives you may want to achieve.
- Learners need to be challenged – Setting the right level of challenge in gamified learning can be tricky, but get this right and learners will enjoy the challenge set whilst working towards the learning objectives.
- Add mock risk – Adding some form of mock risk, such as moving back a space for every question answered incorrectly, can build tension and increase players’ emotional investment in the game.
- Provide an opportunity to demonstrate mastery throughout the process – It’s important that players can see the progress they’re making; this can be done in the form of progress bars, running points tallies or an avatar moving through the game. However this is achieved, it’s important to let each player see that they’re making progress and mastering the topic to keep motivation levels high.
- Immerse learners in a story – Giving actions and ideas a contextual meaning is an extremely powerful way to increase both engagement and information recall. For thousands of years humans have told stories to help pass on information, by integrating characters that encounter a struggle and then find a way to overcome that struggle.
Easy Implementation Examples
- Trivial pursuit format – Modifying the questions within the trivial pursuit format is an easy way to gamify a quiz format. From here you can experiment with adding in and taking away game elements to see the effect on the learners.
- Learner designed games – Get small groups to design a game involving the learning content, then get the groups to swap and complete each other’s games.
- eLearning – There are a plethora of gamified eLearning solutions with varying levels of sophistication. They can be extremely engaging for students and often offer the ability to mark questions and provide instant feedback automatically, freeing up the educator to focus on the intricacies of teaching.