Demystifying Gamification in Education: Bringing the focus back on learners

Demystifying Gamification

We are living in the age of incessant technological breakthroughs, which is disrupting all aspects of our lives, including education. This fast paced disruption in the field of education causes shortening of the learning curve, there by making it imperative for learners, instructors, education companies as well as academic institutions to constantly rediscover and re-educate themselves to be able to survive.

There has been a big shift in pedagogy and the way content is being created, packaged, distributed and consumed. However, the sheer speed of such changes in education sector is the most challenging disruptor. For example, while it took a couple of decades for Radio to gain popularity, the same happened in 10 years for TV, three years for the Internet, a year for Facebook, and a couple of months for WhatsApp. These all are media for content dissemination and the accelerated pace of their popularity is a good proxy for the accelerated pace of change in the way modern learner learns.

Modern pedagogical paradigms and changing trends in education, reinforced by use of technology and digitization, create an unsaid compulsion to use new approaches and techniques to implement active learning. However, one aspect of learning that has and will always remain relevant, despite all technology disruptions, is ability to relate to the content. Benjamin Franklin once famously remarked, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I will learn”. In a way, this was, is, and will always remain the central pillar of any meaningful teaching methodology – whether it involves technology or not! Gamification is something that many believe is the key to successfully blend these changing trends in the ever evolving pedagogical paradigms.

Gamification in Education

Gamification has the potential of reinventing the very basics of teaching methods to make them more engaging and relevant for the learners and enable long-term learning. It is a brilliant way to be a part of the digital reality and enmesh it with meaningful learning. Gamification, by definition, is the use of game mechanics and elements in the learning process to create a more engaging environment. It also includes processing the available information on students’ learning behaviors and tracing their progress to arrive at tangible learning outcomes.

Dr. Lalit Singh
Author- Dr. Lalit Singh, Managing Director, McGraw Hill, India and South Asia

The basic idea behind any game is to achieve a specific goal (to win, to move to the next level or to score points) in the presence of multiple obstacles with varying degrees of difficulty. This is what education aims to accomplish as well. However, the central issue of concern with modern education is the lack of engagement and motivation which makes the learners turn to their smartphones and other gadgets which they look up to as their instant source of information and knowledge. What learners look for is often not found in classroom lectures (even the most gripping ones) and rote textbook learning, which are still endorsed by a large number of educational institutions. This is exactly where gamification can fill the gap.

Gamification in learning focuses on the art of creating a learner-centric teaching environment. It also enables learning beyond the convention by creating “do-it-yourself” tasks which are conducive to development of key skills. Teachers must learn to be facilitators and should utilize these tools to nurture communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity among the learners. For Gamification to be effective, the learning objectives of the game should be clear, the profiles of the participating learners should be carefully defined, the game should be able to induce a sense of competition and active participation among the learners, and finally the game tool should have the ability to deliver measurable outcomes for the learners.

How to meaningfully incorporate Games in Education

In order to meaningfully gamify the learning process,course content must be built keeping the learner’s needs at the center. It is important to make the learners understand that their true potential is unknown and they can achieve anything when they work with passion, effort, and practice.

Course creation should follow a systematic process to drive the desired behavior among the learners. This process can be broken down into 4 steps, repeated over and over again with collected experience and feedback:


Step 1 – Understanding the Target Audience

To begin with, we need to understand who the target learners are, what is their current level of understanding, what are their specific learning needs and their specific challenges. This, of course, includes an understanding of the pain points in the current education system also. The pain points of their existing learning system could range from availability of technology infrastructure, motivation, engagement and skill level of the teachers, learning environment at the institution and homes,and the very nature of the course in question.

Step 2 – Defining the Learning Objectives

Once we have developed a good understanding of the target users, the next important step in the process is to define specific, achievable and measurable learning objectives for the target users. For example, a good learning objective for a game on Class 6 Mathematics could be to help the student achieve better understanding of principles of multiplication. While for a student of computer science engineering, the learning objective can be as simple as writing effective algorithms to optimize the code.

Step 3 – Creating the Story board

Now, the learning objective has to be broken down into smaller elements, which, when put together in a logical order, will help the learner reach the overall goal. These elements, in our example, could be reading about various ways to multiply numbers, solving some simple sums, interpreting some word problems and understanding the relationship between multiplication and division. And for the aspiring computer science engineer, it can be elements like effective use of flowcharts and modularity of code. All these elements of the story then need to be stitched together into a nicely flowing story to keep the users engaged while they play and learn.

Step 4 – Build the Game

The last step in the process is to add interesting gamification features to the story to let it unfold for the user. It includes constructing an entire universe of learning with a range of activities that lead up to the final objective while building a strong sense of competition and/or achievement for the learners. These elements can include achiever’s badges, simple time restrictions, levels, virtual goods, cooperation and teamwork activities, etc. Irrespective of the elements used, in the end the game has to create a sense of winning, reaching a goal or accomplishing something for the learners to stay engaged.

Using such elements helps provoke different reactions from the learners.For instance, to complete a certain level, a student may have to acquire and apply certain skills. However, if the stage is tedious and wrought with obstacles, learners might feel discouraged at the onset itself and may need some social elements to make through, like communication, teamwork, community building, etc.

For learners to be pushed to consecutive stages, it is important to ensure that they are repeatedly motivated with bonus points, winning opportunities,or any other element of surprise and excitement that will want them to come back despite the challenges. The learning program shall surely have an edge if it allows learners to participate at different times with a leader board that refreshes on a regular basis. This avoids the feeling of not being able to catch up and creates a sense of hope and motivation to contest again with the aim to lead.

The ultimate goal is to design the program with a perfect understanding of the overall objective so that each element can make the requisite contribution to the global aim and lead to the desirable, measurable outcome. However, like with any other process, the process of building an educational game is also an iterative one. The feedback from the learners who have used the application is of paramount importance and should guide revision and further development of the game.

In the end, it would be apt to conclude that real-time, long term learning takes place when technology is seamlessly integrated into the learning process, keeping the learners’ core needs at the center of innovations, rather than treating technology as an add-on or an after-thought. The seemingly evolving landscape of digital learning has to blend within the existing landscape of education.

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