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Turning a course into a game could give learners that competitive edge.

Gamification is the process of creating a game out of something mundane for the purpose of incentivising participation, effort and achievement. It involves applying game design concepts such as point scoring and achievements as a reward for engaging with tasks and processes.

But is gamification effective as a teaching and learning tool?

The theory has been utilised across a range of sectors. A well-known example of gamification would be fitness companies. They track elements of your fitness journey through a fitness tracker, reminding you to walk 10,000 steps a day and rewarding you with badges or achievements when you make progress towards your personal goal.

Even marketing departments have utilised gamification to increase participation in events, incentivising customer feedback. This process is effective because of our inherent desire to compete. It uses that instinct to train us into doing something by providing reward for our effort and success, and in turn encouraging progression.

It’s worth mentioning that even if you keep tracked data private and do not publicly compete, people will still compare their achievements and rewards, which in itself can act as a motivator.

Gamification can also be applied to many teaching and learning theories.

First is the core theory of rewarding effort, praising learners for partaking in an activity and progressing their development.

Second is utilising video games as teaching tools. This may seem somewhat far-fetched, but video games such as Minecraft are already being used in classrooms across the world. Minecraft allows players to build anything they can imagine using blocks. This includes programming elements such as creating electrical circuits, automated machinery, and more. It is being used to teach learners circuitry, programming and physics. It has also been used by organisations like Block by Block and the UN-Habitat as a community participation tool to design urban spaces in Kosovo and Johannesburg.

On the course I manage at Greater Brighton Metropolitan College’s Northbrook campus, we have used games to teach learners the logic behind programming.

Specifically, we group our learners into threes and assign them roles: instructor, executor (player), and observer. We then ask them to play a first-person game with a twist: the executor plays the game, but cannot see the screen – their job is to carry out commands given to them by the instructor who can see the screen, while the observer notes the commands that are given and the outcome. The groups play against one another in a multi-player map and the group with the highest score at the end wins.

This task was effective because it gave learners a physical link to the theory of programming, while removing the barrier of ‘Not knowing how to code’ by introducing gameplay – something all learners were familiar with.

Using these techniques is backed by some statistical data – e-learning provider TalentLMS identifies that over 75 per cent of people are gamers. They also note that 80 per cent of learners say they would be more productive if education was more ‘game-like’. Over 60 per cent of learners would be motivated by a leader board system, with 89 per cent of learners suggesting they would be more engaged with e-Learning applications if they gained points for engagement.

With this in mind my team and I have been exploring the idea of gamifying our whole course, assigning learners points for hard work, attendance and punctuality.

This allows them to ‘level-up’ and receive unique benefits and rewards for their effort and achievement, with the overall aim of encouraging learners to push themselves to achieve good grades.

Research on gamification and teaching using video games is only just beginning.

The social perception of video games over recent years has not always been positive, which is why we as educators need to explore these concepts and analyse the results carefully.

Only through this research will we be able to develop a meaningful set of professional standards that may be delivered across a range of curriculum areas.

Our learners are evolving in this digital age – we need to evolve as well.

Piece by Northbrook MET tutors Robert Skinner and Ashley Walton.

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