Looking for more engagement? Use gamification.

Riku Alkio
Riku Alkio

What makes games and gamification such a powerful tool to use in the class room? It doesn’t need a rocket scientist to explain why games work. It’s, in fact, quite simple.

Games make learning fun. In a school context fun does/should not always mean entertainment but more like an engaging learning experience. Playing is goal oriented, incentive based, challenging, compelling, rewarding, and also naturally and healthily addictive. All of it welcome in school settings, right?

When you take a closer look at games, you can quite easily see why they work. “Games have clear goals which are broken down to short-term achievable ones. This gives a seamless progression to players by providing frequent rewards that act as external motivators”, say Mayer & Johnson.

Reaching the goals give players a feeling of autonomy and progress. As part of that  positive feedback – a comment from the teacher, a badge or a sign of respect from a friend- makes you feel good. That’s what games are all about, actively participating, being challenged, responding to a call for action, and getting immediate feedback and reward. This process keeps the player going.

Sometimes at school students lack the feeling of autonomy. They are supposed to go by the rules. In games the players are expected to make their own moves, not just follow others. Freedom of choice is in the core of playing games. Also, the freedom of making choices that make you fail are a natural part of the game.

In real-life situations we tend to avoid risks. We like to play it safe. But when playing a game, one usually thinks about winning and is willing to seek new answers and solutions. In a game the player doesn’t have to be afraid of losing one’s face (which is the case in many class rooms). That is the moment when magic happens. Hockey players say that you are most creative when you just let go and play by instinct. That atmosphere is called the “magic circle of games”. Some call it a “flow” state of mind. In the end, succeeding and scoring the player gets his/her reward and a positive feeling.

The increased willingness to participate, take risks and engage in a game has a logical and also chemical explanation called dopamine. When our brain wants to reward us, it releases dopamine into our bodies. Therefore, when we win a game or achieve something important to us, we feel good.

Gamification is a powerful tool in the school settings. A quiz might be enough if you only wish to have a nice ending for a lesson or want to “break the ice”. A five minute highly structured quiz doesn’t include many of the game mechanics that increase learner engagement but it definitely excites people who are motivated by competition.

If you are looking for creative problem solving techniques and better ways to implement theory into practice, I strongly suggest adding more gamification into your teaching – it will definitely pay off!