Gaming is fun and learning is not, right? But, if we were to integrate the two, would that make the gaming boring or the learning fun?
According to many sources (see Patrick and Doyle, 2016 and Johnson et al, 2016, for example) applying game elements to teaching and other non-game settings, a.k.a. gamification, offers a variety of positive outcomes.
But what does it really mean to gamify the learning process?
To gamify learning, you would use elements typical of games to make the learning more engaging. Elements like leveling up, or gaining EXP and rewards for achievements, or showing tutorials.
The research has shown that applying gamification to various systems works. If you’re a parent or have ever found yourself taking care of a child, you might have effectively gamified activities without having the formal foreknowledge of it. If you had ever overdramatized your tooth brushing motions to get them to brush their teeth, or egged them on to see who will be the first one to do anything, congratulations! You have successfully used tutorials and competition (both of which can be classified as gamification elements) to motivate another person!
If you’ve heard of and remember NikeFuel, a unit of measurement that could be earned through the FuelBand, a wearable fitness tracker, you know another example of gamification. And, sure, the project was discontinued. But the issue wasn’t with the gamified design, but because the wearable technology market is a tough nut to crack, seeing as our phones offer the same functionalities most of the wearables do.
What it comes down to
To fully explain why gamifying the learning process is effective, we need to first introduce a few concepts. Namely – intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, Self-determination theory, and the state of flow.
The first part of this Gamification Series will focus on motivation, how it relates to gamification, and, subsequently, to Studyum.
Part I: Motivation – to do or not to do
Before, psychologists believed that everything a person does is guided by reason. But, if that were true, why would anyone procrastinate?
Of course, you could argue that procrastination is a valid defense mechanism in some cases, but how many of us actually decide to procrastinate? Usually, we simply realize that our zoning out has been a tad too long to be written off as a productive deliberation. Or that, what was intended to be only a quick game login to collect the daily rewards, turned into “I guess I could afford to play one round.” and then into an hour-long gaming session.
The truth is, people are less guided by logic, and more by their impulses. (That, however, doesn’t stop us from rationalizing why we did what we did after the deed’s been done.) When we feel hungry, we eat. If we’re tired, we sleep. Psychologists call these drives. Drives are instinctual, and they stop sending a signal to your brain after they’ve been satiated. But what about our desires and goals?
Motivations are commonly separated into drives, which are fueled by our biological needs, and motives. Motives are the more sophisticated motivations, i.e. when we act to meet our social and psychological needs. External factors, like praise and criticism, and internal factors like our desire for self-actualization, are the ones that inspire motives.
But, what it comes down to is that people are motivated by a basic need to optimize their lives and they do so by reducing pain and increasing pleasure.
The things that move us
So, we’ve established that people can be motivated from within (intrinsically) or by means of some outside influences (extrinsically). To illustrate, your work performance may increase because you find doing your job to be satisfying and meaningful (internal reward), or because you want to earn more money (external reward), or because you fear hunger due to lack of money (external pressure). Of course, these are not mutually exclusive, but one tends to overshadow the others. Additionally, an increase in external rewards usually decreases intrinsic motivation.
Extrinsic motivation can be tricky – you start by promising a candy to your kid for them to calm down and, very soon, you have to up your game. They start thinking: “Hey, let’s see if crying for more might change something.” Then, one candy turns into two, two into three, and, suddenly, you have a child who won’t do anything without getting something in return. The same can be applied to learning.
So, a safer choice would probably be for the learners to find an activity internally rewarding. Not only because it would be a weight off the teacher’s shoulders since the students are more willing to learn, but also because it is more effective. Once they stop seeing grades as the primary reason to put in the effort, students tend to be more invested in what they are studying.
Therefore, when it comes to optimizing the learning process, it is more useful to find ways to encourage students to motivate themselves intrinsically. And how does one do that? Through gamification, of course!
Motivating through gamification – why does Studyum work
Studyum is a learning management system that relies on many gamification elements to motivate its learners.
While gamification is not a new concept in education, the current system does not efficiently take advantage of it. It is both unable to do so – due to a constant lack of resources – and unwilling to do so – since that would entail a complete reconstruction of the already existing paradigm. These are the main drawbacks of standardized education: it is financed by and dependent on centralized banking, and it is slow to adapt to innovations. On the other hand, Studyum implements the latest technologies while relying on decentralized banking. That’s why gamification of learning comes easy to it.
The other learning initiatives outside the formal education system, like professional development courses, are slowly catching up. But we need a revolution to really turn things around. We should no longer have to settle for uninspiring lessons and abstract linear modes of instruction when the already functioning alternatives are ours for the taking.
Read Part II – Self-determination theory – how to encourage intrinsic motivation in yourself and others