Gamification in Education: Yea or Nay?

January 25, 2022

Most parents will be familiar with the sight of their child on the Xbox, eyes fixed on the screen, attention irretrievable, often for hours at a time. Studies show that 80% of UK teens play online games, such as Fortnite or Minecraft, and our national addiction doesn’t look to be slowing down. This phenomenon has naturally raised concerns among parents and teachers alike that students’ attention spans are decreasing and, as a result, effective teaching is becoming more and more difficult.   

But what if there were a way of using the habits young people have formed as a means of innovating teaching methods? Advocates of game theory believe that classrooms should be adapting to the ways in which teen brains are changing by introducing what is known as gamification into their educational approaches.

What is gamification?

Gamification within education means integrating game elements into the learning process. (Game elements refer to familiar characteristics of games, such as rules, competition and points.) Game elements are associated with dopamine production - hence the addictive nature of video games - and can make the process of absorbing information significantly more enjoyable.  

During the challenging days of the pandemic, schools were looking for ways to keep students engaged in the absence of an in-person teaching environment, and so began to embrace the potential for keeping students’ attention provided by game theory.

Unlike with Game-based Learning (GBL) the use of an actual game to teach a concept is not required within gamification, though teachers can choose this option if they wish. Gamification can come in many forms. These range from minimalistic approaches, such as providing instant feedback, to more fleshed out techniques, like constructing classes around an ongoing points system, to turning tasks into collaborative challenges that require active engagement from all students. Teachers who think along these lines often choose to implement educational technology.

Advantages of gamification

The advantages of gamification within an educational context have been well documented. Its proponents talk about the numerous benefits of game elements in engaging students, allowing them a more active learning experience that not only makes the process more enjoyable, but also significantly increases its effectiveness.

Gamification has been shown to help learners retain information, as active usage is an excellent way of ensuring concepts are thoroughly embedded in students’ brains. Experiential learning is far better at helping students understand - and remember - than simply reading information. Plus, the theory is, quite simply, that people learn better when they’re having fun. 

Gamified classrooms also encourage more active engagement from students as it makes the learning process more immersive. Providing immediate rewards, such as points and advancing onto the next level, creates concrete goals that are less abstract than the promise of exam (and subsequent career) success. It also allows students to better track and understand their progress, as it’s essentially transferring a language students are familiar with - levels, checkpoints, etc - to a classroom context. 

Drawbacks of gamification

As we’ve seen, advocates of gamification passionately believe in its ability to change the face of education for the better. But what are the potential disadvantages of gamifying a classroom?

While many say immediate feedback within gamified learning is a positive thing, others aren’t so sure. Too big a focus on instant gratification within learning could in fact be detrimental, lessening students’ ability to look at the bigger picture when it comes to education. If implemented incorrectly, game elements could have the less than desired effect of engaging students on an immediate basis at the expense of their attention spans. This may result in their failing to develop the self-discipline needed for long-term independent study.

Critics also ask if gamification’s heavy emphasis on competition is the best thing for students. Do we really want to encourage young people to equate success primarily with superiority over others? Corporate environments that engage competition as a central tool for motivating their workers might well see effective short term results, but these are rarely sustainable in the long term, to say nothing of the impact on employees’ mental health of such settings. (A counter argument to this is that game elements don’t have to include competition and can be focused solely on individual students’ achievements. However, given the frequent emphasis on points within gamification literature, this argument leaves some unconvinced).

So, what do you think?

Is it time to introduce the systematic use of game theory into UK education? We’re not quite there yet but in the struggle for students’ attention (in which the adversaries, such as technology and social media, are becoming evermore ubiquitous) teachers are increasingly turning to game elements to make their teaching more engaging. Is there a way of perfecting gamification to cut out the potential pitfalls and make it consistently classroom-friendly? Let’s hope so, because its benefits for learning really seem too good to miss.

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Ella Burgess

Ella is a content writer at Tutor House and explores a range of education centred topics, having previously spent time teaching English while living abroad. A foreign language enthusiast and lover of text art, she is devoted to words in all their forms. She'll happily immerse herself in anything wordy from conceptual art to vintage murder mysteries.

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