To most students, gaming and learning might seem like two starkly different activities: one is associated with leisure time while the other takes place in the classroom. But the two can combine surprisingly well. Many teachers today are turning towards gamification in education, augmenting their lesson plans with game-like elements such as challenges, rewards, and scoreboards. By adding these changes to occasional lessons, teachers will be able to see the benefits of gamification via their students’ engagement and excitement for the new ways of learning.
How to “Gamify” a Lesson Plan
- Clearly identify learning objectives
- Develop game structure with reward system
- Tally and share student achievements
It’s no grand revelation that kids and teens (and, let’s be honest, many adults) enjoy playing games. Whether it’s video games, board games, tag, or new games made up between friends, these diversions make up a huge part of a young person’s life.
By harnessing the excitement of games within the classroom, teachers can boost engagement and deepen a student’s level of understanding. However, turning a lesson plan into a game that is both fun and pedagogically successful can be a challenge. For instance, teachers need to think through their reward system, how to tie rewards to learning objectives, and how to make rewards work for all students.
“First, start with the learning objectives,” advises Tod Johnston, Senior Education Content Manager at Sphero. “When making a fun, gamified classroom experience it can be easy to lose sight of your objectives. Continually, ask yourself, ‘How does this help students obtain the learning objectives?’”
Next comes the game structure itself, which could take different forms depending on the subject matter and the personalities of the student group. Many games share common features such as challenges, points, badges, levels to “unlock,” and a leaderboard. “It could be a game show format for reviewing a topic, it could be a simulation that immerses students, or it could be a menu of choices with different point values that students can choose from to demonstrate their learning,” Tod says.
Finally, teachers need to develop a way for students to track and share their achievements over time, ensuring that their commitment to the game is sustained over a number of lessons. This could involve a leaderboard or announcements from the teacher at the end of each lesson.
The 5 Benefits of Gamification in Education
When a teacher declares that today’s lesson is a game, students might feel like they’re receiving a special treat. However, gamification isn’t just about letting students have fun; in fact, there are numerous educational benefits to the approach.
1. Increased Student Buy-in
Gamification can make life easier for educators right from the get-go. By presenting the lesson or unit as a “game,” teachers can increase student buy-in towards learning objectives, helping students approach the topic with an open mind.
2. High Levels of Engagement
The most obvious benefit of gamification in education is increased student engagement, with game-like elements such as scoreboards and badges being more appealing to the average child than a textbook. While not all students will be equally inclined toward these game-like elements, many will relish them.
The “leveled” format of a game can also help students digest information at a steady pace. As Andrew Stott and Carman Neustaedter from Simon Fraser University explain in a research paper, “The concept of acutely designed progression in games has direct links to the concept of scaffolded learning in pedagogy; both structure learning in carefully planned increments in order to increase engagement and subdue feelings of helplessness and disorientation.”
3. Range of Learning Pathways
A good game should give players genuine choices to make. If the game is too linear, players can lose interest and motivation. “In lots of gamified learning environments where students earn badges or other rewards for demonstrating proficiency, they have a choice about which learning topics they pursue,” Tod explains. “Choice is another way to increase student motivation and develop qualities of lifelong learners.”
Giving students different ways of achieving points or goals can help teachers implement the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework, catering to the unique strengths of each individual.
4. Efficient Attainment of Learning Objectives
The most important benefit of gamification is student achievement and depth of learning. If students are engaged and motivated, and if the educational content and delivery are of a high quality, students may be able to obtain learning objectives more quickly and even take learning further.
5. Added Fun
A gamified system helps students learn the subject matter, but it can also achieve equally important outcomes such as increased morale, a sense of camaraderie, and a stronger relationship between the teacher and their students.
Balancing Work and Play
While there are benefits to gamification in education, it can be challenging to implement it in a way that meets the needs of every student. “If the teacher asks students to take on roles and debate a historical event in a fun yet competitive environment, for example, they need to make sure that all students have the opportunity to earn points,” Tod says. In this example, this means ensuring that students more inclined to be outspoken don’t outshine any more reserved students just because their personalities lend themselves better to debates.
Another challenge for educators is maintaining control of the gamified environment. Engagement can quickly lead to over-excitement, and competitive elements can easily overshadow learning objectives. However, this doesn’t have to be the case. Teachers should emphasize that students are primarily competing against themselves to see how much they can learn.
Ultimately, teachers need to strike a balance between gamification and traditional lesson planning. Some students will be more motivated by games than others, and teachers always need to convey information in a variety of ways. “We want students to learn new topics because they are intrinsically curious about them and want to develop new skills,” Tod says. “Students need to be able to learn in the absence of a curated, gamified environment in order to prepare for life after high school and eventual careers.”