Digital games are usually designed for profit and fun, but there’s increasing interest in their use for non-entertainment purposes, particularly in education and training.
Gamification is where techniques or approaches from games are adopted or incorporated into non-gaming activities to make them more engaging or enjoyable. Examples of gamification in teaching and learning include:
- Using badges or other rewards to record achievements
- Encouraging progression through tasks by offering progress markers
- Including competitive elements and rankings
- Game-based learning or 'serious games'; these are educational games designed to achieve a particular curriculum need
Terminology in this field can be confusing so you may find an explanation helpful.
The use of game approaches for online learning can help to reinforce or develop skills, or provide a forum for experimentation and discovery, however your institution may find that incorporating such approaches can be costly if staff don’t have the necessary technical skills.
Barriers and challenges
Although technological developments increasingly make gaming easier to adopt, there are several cultural barriers that affect choices around using games within the curriculum. In their book1 on enhancing teaching and learning through games Nicola Whitton and Alex Moseley identify barriers for students and staff.
Students may feel that the use of games for serious study isn’t appropriate or too frivolous. Staff may find it challenging to convince senior managers or peers of the value that games could add to the curriculum.
Even when staff are open to using gaming approaches, they may find it difficult to map them into their specific curriculum.
Problem-solving and experiential learning
Gaming can support behaviourist approaches to encourage repetition, recognition and recall but has significant strengths for constructivist approaches. Gaming in education can support high-level learning outcomes such as critical thinking, synthesis, evaluation and problem-solving.
It can also encourage experiential learning and inquiry-based learning by incorporating authentic gaming experiences that allow students to try out different actions that would be difficult in real environments.
For example, in a medical context, it may help students to diagnose conditions, and see the impacts of their decisions, without harming real patients.
Gaming can also support collaborative learning approaches. Multi-user roleplaying games offer opportunities for players to work in teams, and develop communities and rules to support the achievement of the game’s aims.
Educational games can offer similar collaborative opportunities for online students to interact and complete cooperative tasks.
Issue 43 of the online journal eLearning Papers explores different approaches and models for applied games and gamified apps. Our guide to digital games in learning (view via Wayback Machine) offers more information and links to studies and research in this area.
Our archived gamification guide provides examples of gamification in education (view via Wayback Machine).
|Barriers||What you can do|
|Staff are nervous of adopting game-based approaches due to lack of skills and knowledge||Provide staff training and support|
|Establish champions across the institution|
|Learn from external institutions|
|Students feel that gaming approaches are not appropriate for serious academic study||Educate students to the benefits of gaming|
|Engage students in curriculum design|
|Pilot short-term approaches to build trust and obtain feedback|
|Get students to develop educational games|
|Concerns at the cost of developing educational games||Use free games technologies|
|Allow students to develop games and create a games bank as part of learning activities|
|Investigate the potential of selling developments to other institutions|
- 1 Using Games to Enhance Learning and Teaching: A Beginner's Guide (Whitton, Nicola and Moseley, Alex 2012) - https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=wniRbc74sTIC&pg=PA202&lpg=PA202&dq=h...