Live 2 Learn

A few thoughts and ideas

Is gamification the answer? Maybe, maybe not.

A recent blog post was shared to me by a colleague. The short article stated that students are learning incorrectly and that gamification would improve student learning if used throughout education. See here for the online article from Futurism.com called ‘The way that students learn today is wrong‘.

The article makes the case that the stages that gamers follow in solving problems is akin to the scientific approach. This may be so, however, my initial response is to say that though the improved engagement of a well designed ‘gamified’ learning object maybe worthwhile and the way students (players) approach failure and retrying may promote some beneficial ways of engaging with problems, the situation is not as simple as it is often presented by supporters of gamification in education.

Sometimes it is very suitable to have students enter a well designed game based learning environment. Teachers and educational resource developers can learn alot from how game designers build in encouragement for engagment, reiteration, skill development and especially the appropriate and progressive setting of levels of challenge. My concern is, as is often my case, with the sweeping statement and massive generalisations that are made around technology related issues such as online testing, coding and gamification.

I am a long-time advocate for well-considered and appropriate technology in the classroom (or out, as in the case of online learning environments). I have been the technology and elearning leader in two schools during the last twenty years. However, I am cautious of proposed large scale and particularly one-solution suggestions based around technology. Though having significant value and potential, these solutions usually fail to deliver the promised results in the ways envisaged because of a lack of sophisticated understanding of the range of variables and factors involved in supporting effective learning. A prime example of this is the 1 to 1 laptop scheme which, though having great potential to support innovative and effective learning, fails to deliver the measurable benefits that were hoped for. The problem here is that the educational practices of old have been continued and actually contradict and are contradicted by the usual activities for which the laptop is used. Though the laptop is a useful productivity device (read ‘typing’), laptops in classrooms are of the greatest benefit when they are 1. used for well selected and suitable tasks – often involving creation, analysis and particularly communication, and 2. are not an assumed part of every lesson.

My question in regards to gamification in learning is what types of thinking, problem solving and intellectual habits are best suited by the affordances of game-based activities. Though the potential of technology to support engaged learning is undeniable, in practice the majority of gamified activities only preference certain types of thinking and doing. For example, where is the game that students excitely engage with that supports the detailed construction of arguments, accurate descriptions etc. These are best served by writing extended texts or developing media in the form of a documentary etc. In many cases the high-power use of technology needs to be delayed while students research, note, catalogue, sort, collate, design, conceptualise and synthesise. Only once this is done, which may involve some low-powered use of technology, can the power of modern technology be brought to bear to create, edit and publish the finished product. Sure, the end product can be a game or some form of sophisticated media that is technology based, but many forms of thinking and learning does not occur if the wrong technology is applied.

I would caution all educators to investigate and understand exactly the type of cognitive process you are attempting to support and then select the learning activity appropriately. Sometimes this will be a game-based or game-like resource, sometimes a low level use of technology, sometimes the most effective will be sans technology.

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