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Gamification May No Longer Be Trending but It’s Not Dead

By Cait Etherington
July 03, 2018

Kai Erenli, an Austrian researcher, wears many hats: lawyer, law professor, and game designer. He recently attended the International Conference on eLearning in the Workplace at Columbia University to share his insights on best practices in gamification. According to Erenli, “In 2011, we were in the peak of inflated expectations but by 2014, we were in the throws of disillusionment. Where are we now?” While he thinks that the concept of gamification is dead, he doesn’t believe the practice is gone. It will, he believes, increasingly circulate under different labels.

What is Gamification?

To be clear, gamification can refer to several different practices. Since it first started to gain attention around 2010, gamification has often been associated with online learning experiences that are premised on the assumption that rewards, such as virtual badges, fuel student motivation and as a result, enhance learning. However, as recently reported on eLearning Inside News, there are considerable doubts about whether or not badges and other rewards work. In fact, many researchers suggest that this B.F. Skinner-inspired approach to education may have more do with with the past than the future of education. But this is not the only approach to education that is known as gamification.

As Erenli observes, gamification also includes an entire range of immersive gamelike experiences that can have significantly positive benefits. In a 2013 study, Erenli contended, “Gamification has proven to have an enormous impact on today’s learners.” He added that one specific benefit is increased engagement: “A student who is interested in the lesson or course taught will be a more productive learner. Games can be a great tool to help students stay engaged. These objectives can easily be met by allowing educators to restructure and reorganize their lessons creatively. As a result, students will be motivated to broaden their minds and improve their skills.”

Erenli admits that he was once a skeptic, but by 2013, he was publishing articles supporting gamification’s integration in higher education. In one such article, Erenli noted, “Gamification has proven to have an enormous impact on today’s learners.” His reason is clear: gamification promotes engagement. According to Erenli, “A student who is interested in the lesson or course taught will be a more productive learner [2]. Gamification can be a great tool to help students stay engaged. These objectives can easily be met by allowing educators to restructure and reorganize their lessons creatively. As a result, students will be motivated to broaden their minds and improve their skills.” But what do best practices entail?

Best Practices in Gamification

Erenli emphasizes that there are many case studies that point to the success and failure of gamification projects but few studies that focus on the big picture. To this end, he recently compared dozens of recent studies on the topic. Accordingly, Erenli has compiled a list of best practices in the field. First, he says, “Stop building Skinner boxes. When people do this, they are fostering addictive behavior but not learning.” Second, he suggests that we would be better off if we stopped offering chocolate-covered broccoli. In other words, he suggests, “Move way from badges and leader boards and focus on best practices in the game designer field.” Third, he insists, “Gamification includes AR and VR, and it is likely these immersive forms that are the future of gamification, but it will take some time for this to be fully embraced since it is still too expensive for most people.”

So what is Erenli’s advice for building the very best educational games? “My advice is that you start by looking into the principles of game design.” He also emphasizes the need to engage educators in the process. If you gamify projects and classrooms but  don’t have buy-in from educators, he observes, your efforts to gamify will ultimately fail.

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