Gamifying the Classroom

“Play is the highest form of research.” Albert Einstein.


The Relevance, benefits, challenges and the future…


Many educators and content developers are putting in effort to gamify the classroom. With more and more innovation by developers and adoption by students and teachers, game based learning is having an increasingly positive impact on education.

This is not surprising since our learners were born with technology in hand, and have come to expect media rich, entertaining, social and interactive content in all avenues of their lives. Gaming in education is on the path to widespread integration of all sorts of games in all sorts of classrooms affirmed by a booming market which reached $1.5 billion in revenues in 2012 and is estimated to grow to $2.3 billion worldwide by 2017 according to the independent research firm Ambient Insight.

What is educational gaming all about?

Educational games are games traditionally designed with educational purposes, or which have subsidiary educational value. Educational games are designed to teach people about certain subjects, expand educational concepts (such as a mathematical concept in application), understand a historical event or culture, or assist learners in acquiring a skill as they play. Many types of games may be used in an educational environment, from simulation-based games, to Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games, to Alternate Reality Games (ARGs), to Serious Games that take on real-world social issues.

The benefits.

The potential benefits of gaming in education are infinite, but limited to the design success of the individual game and content creators to integrate and exploit the current technology, graphics, relevant learning, assessment techniques, motivation and incentive psychology and entertainment potential.

Gaming in education can affect cognitive and motor skills, assist learners who are visually or audio stimulated and infuse entertainment, interactivity and fun into learning. Most games have problem solving scenarios which can spark creativity and contextualise information for real world application. Gaming, through experiencing consequences, and working toward goals allows players to make mistakes through experimentation in a risk-free environment (like a flight simulator) and in some instances to collaborate with fellow learners to solve real world problems collectively.

As an assessment tool, gaming enables the capturing of immediate, in-depth data about each student’s performance and paves the way for new modes of assessing and perhaps even accrediting progress and achievement in ways that reward and reinforce engagement.

By completing stages and receiving rewards or badges, students are motivated to keep trying where they might otherwise give up, because games have rules and structure and goals that inspire the learner to complete, not only tasks or subjects but perhaps one’s entire curriculum.

The Challenges.

The challenges around integrating gaming into a pre-structured curriculum are nothing short of a complete paradigm shift for content developers, parents and educators.

Gaming if not carefully planned can become a distraction, causing players to become too focused on the game and not on learning or conversely to feel patronized or bored by laboured and repetitive games with childish themes pitched at the wrong age group.

Gamification in education is the most expensive addition to the education space, and although the market is soaring, the investment is costly.

The design process is lengthy and additionally trends in gaming shift so radically that games can very quickly become outdated and obsolete.

Lastly a very real challenge around gamification rests not in the product itself but in usage and integration of the game into the classroom. It is very challenging to insert a consumer ready product into a school without the buy in of principals, teachers and without lesson plans that complement blended learning.

The Future.

We don’t really know what the future holds, but we can say for certain that the gamification is changing as rapidly as technology, social networking and game graphics.

It seems as though multiplayer role playing games (MMO’s) will feature a lot more in providing opportunities for players to improve such skills as, complex learning, thinking, and social practices that extend beyond the traditional subject and curriculum into real world application.

We also have to acknowledge that games are here to stay and that the smarter we are about their design and implementation the closer we get to bridge the gap between learners and educators.