Gamification of Learning: Level Up the Brain

Gamification is the use of game elements or game-design techniques in non-game contexts. It mimics the experience of playing a game when there isn’t a game.

Just about anytime you think to yourself “This is fun!” while you’re doing something that is NOT slouching on your couch in your pajamas eating Peanut Butter Captain Crunch while shooting zombies, is likely an instance of gamification. A couple of real world examples of gamification include airlines’ frequent flier programs, phone apps that make you feel like you’re running away from zombies, piano stairs, and the lottery. Boundaries and rules are in place for a “player” to interact with the system in a way that is engaging, fun, and rewarding.

Sometimes these techniques are mutually beneficial. Frequent flier miles allow the customer to eventually redeem free airplane tickets, while the airline retains a loyal customer. These techniques can also be nefarious, like with the lottery. We are more likely to be enslaved by a race of mutated bats with nuclear venom than we are of winning the lottery, but the high reward, the suspense of the numbers being drawn, and the promise of a better life without having to work for it entices people to throw their money away.

google trends
Gamification has been one of the trendiest concepts and misused phrases in business models since the advent “social media” and “viral content.” It will be a matter of time before you hear someone tell you about Demand Generation of Viral Gamification Content Trending on Social Media Marketing Pipelines.

Making ordinary items more fun by changing it into a game has a strong foundation in marketing because it engages the customer in a fun and interesting way and drives them to continue their interactions with the item. This is not a new concept. Like a spoonful of sugar. Make it fun; keep their interest longer. Keep them interested, build a relationship. Do that, and not only do you have a steady influx of engagement (and possibly money), but because it’s something fun, there is a greater probability they will recommend it to others.

This does not mean giving players arbitrary badges or points when they repeat an action a few times or interact with a few elements of the game.

Problem-solving, interactivity, challenges, and growth are what makes games engaging.

  • There needs to exist the possibility of losing, so that the player will adapt, learn, and overcome the challenge and win.
  • A balance of failure and reward needs to be in place to allow the player to solve problems in increasing difficulty to encourage growth and learning.
  • Proper use of game mechanics can foster improved learning in a shorter amount of time than strictly studying or taking classes would. A gamified leanning system can effectively “level up” your brain.

There are basically two camps in which to merge learning and gaming. You can have a game with elements of learning, or education with elements of gaming. Examples of games with learning elements include old school games like Oregon Trail and Where In The World is Carmen Sandiego? The Oregon Trail was a staple of my elementary classrooms, and taught us about 19th century pioneer life, how to save your assets until you truly need them, and how much it sucks to die of dysentery.

Carmen Sandiego was a geography and culture quiz disguised as an elementary detective game. There was a simple goal: catch the crook. To accomplish this, the player had to jump from town to town asking citizens questions that led them to their whereabouts. Luckily, every criminal couldn’t lay low and keep their mouth shut.

An example of education with elements of gaming, which I will focus the next post on when I’m not rambling about Carmen Sandiego and The Oregon Trail, is a technology education website called Team Treehouse. Come back soon for “Level 2″ of this post, where I’ll highlight some of the elements of Team Treehouse that compare and contrast their format from games.


Carmen Sandiego

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