today I want to share with you my latest insights about the question if gamification can make us learn. I was thinking about it again because my former lecturer told me that in her opinion, learning (especially in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)) does not need to be fun but to include top notch content.
First, for those of you who are not familiar to gamification: gamification is the application of game mechanics in non-game contexts, e.g. showing customers a leaderboard of the most-buying customers to motivate them to buy even more. So you might want to call gamification a manipulation thing using mechanics that make you feel good or try to do better in games.
The question now is, can we really be manipulated to learn something?
In my opinion, gamification can be a trigger for learning. The game-like style is likely to grab your attention and teach you a first few things in an easy way. This is supported by a good on-boarding design. On-boarding means that in the beginning, there is more help and less difficulty so that you can start smoothly and not just get scared and frustrated after the first minutes.
Gamification then can keep you for some time satisfying your curiosity to discover new things and to figure out how things work. You might enjoy yourself earning some points and achievements and making some progress.
But someday, things get boring and the question then is: What have you learned and what are the take-aways from the time spent on this gamified learning environment?
To be able to answer this question, we have to think about your original motivation why you spent this time and if your motivation changed during spending the time. In my opinion, you can only learn something in a healthy way if you are really caring about learning it. I define healthy learning as a sustainable learning which is achieved once the learner begins to ask questions and looks for answers to these questions – which leads to real engagement of the learner and application of the topic to learn.
So if you just stumbled into the learning environment accidentally, looking for pleasure and left once pleasure became less and work became more, you might have learned a few things but they are very likely to fade away soon and you are likely to have not achieved a deep learning and understanding of the topic to learn. In short, little or no learning.
But if you came to the learning environment with questions to answer or developed an interest in the topic to learn in the learning environment, you are likely to take away much more – and maybe even stay longer or look for other learning environments.
So the point I want to make is that what matters first and most is not the design of the learning environment but your motivation to learn.
Which is the role of gamification then?
As stated above, gamification can be a trigger for learning. If the learner is motivated for learning (motivation is not the product of gamification!), the elements of gamification can be a great way to provide the learner with a lot of intuitive learning management tools. Think of a map which shows you the topics you could still move to. A skill tree which shows you which skills you’ve already learned and what you might want or need to work on. A quest you can give to someone so that he/she explains something to you or works on a topic you are interested in. Earning experience points for learning success and getting level-ups to find and peer with other persons of similar levels. All the tracking of your learning and the management of the topics to cover, the possibilities to work on and the communication with other persons can be enhanced and facilitated by gamification techniques so that you can spend more time on the thing you care for – learning something you are really interested in.
Finally, to answer my starting question: gamification can not make us learn in a healthy way if we are only looking for pleasure. And a last side note: It is somewhat ironic that a society which is pleasure-centered tries to cure the problems of their pleasure-centeredness (that people care more about earning money to buy more pleasure than to learn more to make the world a better place), that this pleasure-centered society is trying to cure their pleasure-centeredness problem with making learning more pleasure…
I am looking forward to learn what you think.
Have a great weekend,