Learning by playing: gamification as a game-changer

In the learning process gamification could be a real shift for a better understanding and comprehension.

Dynamic social and economic changes have created the need for the application of innovative teaching and learning techniques as well as approaches that would mobilize personal development and find the balance between achieving the objectives of the educators and evolving learners’ needs. Although the majority of the organisations active in the field of non-formal and informal education fully acknowledge aforementioned situation in many cases, they are still lacking proper tools and methods, which could bring greater benefits to the communities they work with, to tackle challenges in a more creative manner.

Photo by Michal Parzuchowski.

Gamification is the process of using game mechanics and game thinking in non-gaming contexts to engage users and to solve problems. Another way to explain it is that gamification consists of making daily tasks more enjoyable by introducing gaming elements. Gamification can become an useful tactic to encourage specific attitudes, and increase motivation and engagement. Though commonly found in marketing strategies, it is now started being implemented in some educational programs as well, facilitating learning experience and influencing behaviours. Recent studies (e.g. Rigby & Przybylski 2006) have explored what makes games so efficient: it turns out that it’s because they fulfill three basic needs — the need for autonomy (being able to make choices), the need for competency (to overcome challenges), and the need for relationships (which add a perceived value to the game). Studies in education (Viau 2004) show that the needs fulfilled by video games are actually the same three factors that one has to take into account to stimulate motivation in learning. If structured well, a gamification system utilises the psychic drivers that people want to experience, creating novel ways of forming and extending relationships and encouraging long-term engagement and loyalty. That is to say, a successful system that leverages natural human instinct to form a community, to achieve and to feel recognised and rewarded in our daily lives.

However, gamification has received its fair share of criticism. Many have described it as a tool for implementing “carrot-and-stick” method, saying that the game is just a fancier version of reward and punishment system. Others put forth the idea that students should be motivated by the desire to learn, not by some external tool and that games breed competition or that they lead to students learning about the game rather than the course matter.

These criticisms have merit. We do see a lot of gamification efforts leading to those outcomes. However, it is believed that this is because those games are badly designed, not because gamification or using games in education is inherently a bad practice.

In her TED talk back in 2010, Jane McGonigal explained why games shouldn’t be used only for escapist entertainment and how we can leverage the power of games to fix what is wrong with the real world — from social problems like depression and obesity to global issues like poverty and climate change — and introduces us to cutting-edge games that are already changing the business, education, and non-profit worlds. It is also proven number of times that children enjoy the learning more if it is fun, not too serious and engaging in the topic comes with enjoying the process. For example, a “new research finds that kids aged 4–6 perform better during boring tasks when dressed as Batman”. That would mean that gamification is not necessarily engaged in specific goals that are awarded — it could be something as simple as a costume of your favorite character!

During our forthcoming workshop ‘Let’s Gamify’ we will focus on developing specific competencies in gamification and will design educational games for youth workers, facilitators, educators and trainers, on topics related to social exclusion and global challenges.

If you are interested in our workshop, apply here.


Article by our amazing Kika (Nomadways team), who studies Gender Studies — Intersectionality and Change at Linkoping University, Sweden.


About Nomadways

We craft international workshops for artists, educators and youth workers. Together we create pedagogical artwork, share and invent practical solutions to social problems.