Game On: Gamifying Education

Last week, we examined the psychology behind motivation and its importance in education. We determined that intrinsic, or internal, motivation (doing things because you want to) is more effective than extrinsic, or external, motivation (doing things just because you’re being rewarded). This week we will look at a concept called gamification, and how it can be applied to education in order to inspire intrinsic motivation in students.

Gamification is the concept of converting a task into a game in order to make it more engaging.  It’s the spoon full of sugar that helps the medicine go down. Corporations have spent huge sums of money researching the benefits of gamification, and in the internet age these same corporations have managed to apply gamification very effectively.

In its most basic form, systematically measuring the progress of a task and identifying the current status of the participants is all that is required for gamification. It’s so surprisingly subtle and straightforward that you may be a willing participant in many of the best examples of gamification and not even know it.

Which of these games are you currently playing?

  1. The Rewards Card – One of the most widespread uses of gamification, rewards or loyalty cards allow participants to accrue points towards special membership perks, or other extrinsic rewards. However, the more points you save, the better the rewards or perks usually get. This encourages consumers to constantly shop at the same location repeatedly because they don’t just want a prize, they want the best prize. It also allows consumers to justify larger purchases because it will get them more points.
  2. The Limited Time Offer – This is essentially a race against all other shoppers. The prize is a discount on your purchase, but whoever arrives at the sale first gets first pick at all the best items on sale. It only takes one glance at the empty slot where the item you could have had was to motivate you to wake up earlier the next time a sale comes around. A similar game has cropped up with internet retailers called a flash sale. It’s still a race, but instead of limiting the product, most of the satisfaction comes from beating the very short clock.
  3. Netflix – One of the reasons for the online movie streaming service’s success is that it is built upon an extremely effective game:  movie rating. Every time you watch a movie, you’re asked to rate the movie you watch, the reward is that movies are better tailored to you, motivating you to watch more movies, continue to rate movies and continue to pay your subscription. Moreover, by rating movies, you’re willingly participating in market research for Netflix, helping it make more accurate suggestions to all its other users.
  4. Fantasy Football – In this case, the game isn’t hidden, but its impact on consumers may not be as obvious. By encouraging you to participate in Fantasy Football, the NFL manages to add an extra level of emotional attachment to the outcome of each game and each player’s performance. You don’t just watch because you want your favorite team to win, you watch because you want your favorite players to do what you need in order to win at Fantasy Football. The result is an increase in NFL viewership, loyalty, and merchandise sales.

Chances are that you’ve played at least one of these games, and as a player you probably understand how effective they are on some level. These games generate deep intrinsic motivation for people to take part. But how does gamification apply to education?

Gamification can be used to increase motivation and engagement in both instructor-led and computer-based modes of education. One good example is an educator and video game designer named Lee Sheldon, who changed his classroom into one big game for his students. Although grades were still a factor, those grades were awarded as “levels” to students who had earned enough “experience points.” 1860 points got students a level 12, which was equivalent to an A, 1800 earned level 11, an A-, 1740 was level 10, a B+, etc. Every student started class as a level 1, and each task they completed earned a certain amount of points. Sheldon found that students would voluntarily take on more work to earn more points and increase their level. In other words, students were intrinsically motivated to do more work because each task increased their level.

A Sheldon-style classroom can be further enhanced by adding public status displays like a scoreboard. This kind of display adds a competitive edge to the game, increasing student motivation even more.

This isn’t the only way to gamify education either, actual video games can be used to teach as well. The more fun those games are, the more successful they will be at encouraging students to participate. Lincoln Electric and Miller have both invested in developing virtual welders for this very reason, and with great results.

American Welding Online also uses digital tools and new technologies to provide engaging educational experiences, including online courses, virtual conferences and online resource libraries. Gamification is next. We’re currently developing a welding video game for mobile devices that will help teach the basics of welding and raise awareness of the field as a career path, all while entertaining potential welders. Expect to hear more about this game in the future.

Gamification may be the key to improving the effectiveness of the classroom, and in the modern internet age, the possibilities for gamification are far reaching. If you’d like to learn more about gamification, check out AWS Education Director David Hernandez’s presentation on the AWS YouTube channel. And as always, we invite you to visit the AWO for digital tools and resources to help you advance your welding career.

More on Gamification in Education:

Gamification of Education
Gamification in Education
Jane McGonigal: Gaming can Make a Better World
John Hunter: Teaching with the World Peace Game



One thought on “Game On: Gamifying Education”

  1. There’s something fundamentally wrong with this explanation. You start out by defining intrinsic motivation as something (doing things because you want to) versus extrinsic motivation (doing things because you are rewarded), and correctly assert that intrinsic motivation is more effective. However, you then defy your own definitions by claiming that students who are rewarded with levels and urged to compete with each other (extrinsically motivated) become intrinsically motivated to do more work. Doing something because you want to “get a reward” is not intrinsic motivation.

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