Gamification in education has been the subject of much research recently. Coined in 2002, the term ‘gamification’ refers to the use of game elements, such as reward points or that Pavlovian-response-inspiring ‘ding’ after completing a task, to motivate people to work on something that would normally be a dull activity.
Think of how easily many of us can perform the same activity over and over in a minigame, when the same activity in real life would get boring pretty fast. This is because the minigame offers us carefully timed and scaled rewards that tell our brains we are being productive and getting something worthwhile for our efforts. Gamification just harnesses the same strategy for the good of learning.
The benefits of gamification in education are countless, but there are some distinct highlights:
- Better engagement with the lesson
- Greater interest in the subject matter
- Quieter, more focused students
- Realistic simulations
- Adaptability to users’ individual needs
- Higher grades/more passes
The psychology of gamification causes us to put more effort in when we feel rewarded. It sounds so simple on the surface, and we have been doing this, in many way, for years. In the past we offered students perks, regular scoring, and certificates in exchange for hard work, but it is only recently that we have worked out how to apply rewards ever more efficiently to make sure students are genuinely enjoying their lessons.
The top strategies for rewarding students are:
1: Offer a level system
A bit like how our books are divided into chapters, we need to highlight and celebrate students’ progress. Set learning milestones and motivate students towards them.
You can also consider offering a small certificate or reward at each milestone, with major milestones being celebrated more seriously. This way your student has something to aspire to and something to look forward to.
2: Intermittent rewards
The biggest difficulty with motivating students is that it’s hard to stay engaged for a lesson when the reward is in a week, or six months time.
Instead, offer small rewards intermittently for work well done. The trick is to award often, but not every single time a student does well. A good rule of thumb is to offer a small reward, such as a point, for 9-out-of-10 “well dones”.
3: Score keeping
Keep a tally of what level your students are at, how quickly they reach each level, and how many rewards they’ve earned. Everyone is motivated by the prospect of defeating our own personal record, but there needs to be a record to beat!
4: Opt-in leaderboards
Some people are really motivated by comparing themselves to others, whereas other people are put off. Adopt a leaderboard that students can choose to participate in, allowing competitive students and shy students to use their scores to suit their own personal needs.
Although gamification in learning is a relatively new approach, it’s holding up to scrutiny, and may just be the solution you need for your students’ focus and motivation challenges.