Gamification is a concept commonly known as the use of game mechanics in non-gaming contexts. Those “non-gaming contexts” can range from simple things like doing chores (Chore Wars), to health (Health Prize), lifestyle (Nike+), research (Foldit), sustainability (Kukui Cup) and many other things. Education and training is another “non-gaming context” which is extremely well suited for the application of what are known as “game mechanics”.

The idea of using games to teach and train people is not at all new. Indeed, for centuries games have been used to train soldiers and to teach strategy. Chess is a good example, but things like simulations and game-based training scenarios are also very common in military training.

Over the last few decades, the popularity of videogames and the introduction of information and communication technologies in the classroom have given rise to a trend known as game-based learning. Game-based learning or, more specifically, digital game-based learning, has attracted the attention of educators and corporate trainers. Videogames are highly engaging and academics (like Marc Prensky or James Paul Gee who identified 36 different ways to learn with videogames) are also starting to recognise the potential they have to increase engagement in a learning environment.

Digital game-based learning has been applied with three main approaches:

  1. Using commercial off-the-shelf videogames, when games have content that can be used for educational purposes.
  2. Using Serious Games, a type of video game in which learning is the primary goal.
  3. Students building their own games, allowing them to develop problem-solving, programming and game design skills.

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However, these approaches have some drawbacks. Commercial video games have several limitations since the content may not be complete and accurate. You will only ever learn as a side-effect of playing a videogame, so many of them have arguable educational value. And producing serious games, with the quality of commercial video games, requires enormous budgets. Games developed by students also require teachers with expertise in game design and game development, which is not something teachers of most subjects possess.

Gamification in education and training is another way to use game thinking and game elements to promote engagement, increase motivation and make learning fun. Gamification has a great potential to motivate students and make school more attractive (see “Gamification in Education: What, How, Why Bother?”). It has the advantage of introducing what really matters from the world of video games – increasing the level of engagement and fostering motivation – without using any specific game.

There are already some highly successful applications of gamification to the education sector. Look at Khan Academy, for example, a non-profit project that incorporates several game mechanics, like achievement badges and points, with the goal of keeping users engaged. Another example is Quest to Learn, a public school in the United States that is using game-like learning as a way to empower and engage students.

Despite these examples and many other projects that have emerged recently, there is still little empirical evidence regarding the benefits of using gamification in the classroom and in corporate training. So, gamification, with a remarkable potential in education and training, can create a wide range of opportunities for research and a market for new educational tools and technological platforms.

Image by: smemon