In today’s post, the Teaching and Learning Centre’s Mark Baltovic continues the discussion on gamification and student learning.

The idea that games can enhance student learning is increasingly being recognised, even at the higher education level; indeed, in Games and learning, the Teaching and Learning Centre’s Esther Saxey discussed an example of game-playing on a course in the Department of Anthropology. However, games might offer us far more than just engaging activities to promote learning in the classroom: what makes a game successful in engaging and motivating players might also help us to address student engagement and motivation with their learning. In the first of what will be an occasional series of events, workshops and online resources, this post considers the deeper subject of gamification in education.[Note: this post is derived from a TLC workshop entitled “Engaging students through gamification” which debuted earlier this term.]

Gamification is the application of elements of game design and mechanics to non-game contexts, usually with the intention to influence behaviour and engagement; gamification in an education context typically refers to the application of these ideas in order to drive student motivation engagement with the learning process. It is important to note that gamification does not call for the explicit use of games, or some notion of ‘play’ or ‘playtime’. Rather, it reflects what the successful design and implementation of game experiences can tell us about human behaviour and engagement, and how these lessons can be incorporated into the design of other experiences, be they individual or social; competitive or collaborative; professional or personal; mandatory or optional. Indeed, once you know what to look for, you do not have to look very far to see in many aspects of human life today the same principles that are prevalent in the modern day design of video games or board games. As such, gamification might be more conveniently viewed as an approach to the design of human interactions, with video games only being the medium in which they are most observable.

As a first step towards understanding and harnessing the potential benefits that gamification can bring to education, it is helpful to approach it through a framework that can allow one to enumerate aims, identify and implement appropriate stratagems, and ultimately evaluate outcomes. The first of the TLC’s workshops on gamification was designed to do just this, paying particular attention to the Octalysis framework [1], developed by gamification advocate and speaker Yu-Kai Chou. Yu-kai’s framework, which ostensibly discusses game-like ‘experiences’ and their participants, identifies eight ‘core drives’ from which motivation arises – meaning, accomplishment, empowerment, ownership, social influence, scarcity, unpredictability, and avoidance. Without at least one of these core drives present in any experience, active engagement of the participants is unlikely.

The appeal of this framework is that it is flexible enough to be applicable across a broad range of contexts: for example, in education, one might use it to consider the design of simple classroom activities (including conventional ‘learning games’) through to course, or even programme, design. While the promise of Yu-kai’s framework then is that by understanding the nature of these core drives (for example, differentiating between the goal-orientated, i.e. ‘extrinsic’, and the experience-orientated, i.e. ‘intrinsic’, drives; or between those drives that give agency to participants, i.e. ‘white-hat’, and those which diminish or remove this, i.e. ‘black-hat’) and which of these might be applicable for participants, and when, we may design an experience that better engages them. Exploring how this gamification framework (and indeed others) can help us to better understand our students’ motivations, and design accordingly, will be the subject of several more resources and workshops in the coming academic year. If you would like to be informed of these events (or related events both inside and outside the School), drop us an email to be included on our gamification mailing list.

In a follow-up post we shall consider some examples that demonstrate how these core drives can be addressed and explicitly designed for.

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