Educational technology tips for teachers, librarians and schools.

Serious Games: The Future of Gamification in Learning

Serious Games: The Future of Gamification in Learning

By Marianne Stenger

reading too much? Whooos ReadingHow do you capture a learner’s attention and bring topics or lessons to life in a way that won’t easily be forgotten? This is biggest challenge for any educator or course developer.

One of today’s biggest movements aimed at increasing learner engagement is gamification, or the incorporation of game elements into non-game settings.

Of course, the concept of “gamifiying” things is hardly new; businesses have been using game elements like feedback loops, badges and rewards as way to interact with their target audience and to influence customer loyalty and retention for a long time.

In education, gamification has the potential to turn an otherwise routine learning assignment into an interactive and creative activity that motivates students to work harder and perform better. It can also introduce a competitive element into learning and provide students with a sense of achievement when they complete a particular task or assignment.

Gamification has the potential n

“Serious games is the $10 billion industry nobody knows about,” says Sue Bohle, Executive Director of the Serious Games Association. “By 2020, games will be used to engage students at all educational levels and teach the general public about global problems.”

She points out that one of the most notable trends in serious games for learning has been the emergence of educational games based on cognitive or ‘brain’ stimulation.

Kelly Walsh, CIO at the College of Westchester, who has written extensively about gamification on his blog Emerging EdTech, believes that the increased focus on serious games signifies major advancements in game-based learning.

“Serious games are being influenced by increased acceptance of gaming, and many younger teachers spend time with immersive games in their private lives,” says Walsh.

He says another gaming element that keeps improving and has significant potential for higher education is the collaborative aspect.

“Think of all the possibilities for real world simulations in these rich virtual worlds where students and teachers alike can interact over long stretches of time, and how these lend themselves to learning, and research, in ways that were never possible before.”

Of course, trends are known to come and go in the edtech industry, and there has been some speculation about whether gamification could be just another fleeting trend. Walsh points out that despite the recent hype surrounding gamification, gaming has played a role in education since as far back as anyone can remember.

“Think of the toys that that are common place in preschool and role playing in older grades. Like many other aspects of our modern lives, we now have available to us the capacity to leverage digital tools in this equation. The possibilities for digital gaming to engage older students and bring sophisticated capabilities to learning, is unlimited,” he says.


“In coming years as online collaboration, wearable technologies, social media, and many other digital constructs continue to evolve, the ways that gaming can incorporate those elements will only add to its functionality and influence increased usage,” Walsh says.

He continued, “I also believe that as more and more studies indicate the benefits of well designed and thoughtfully leveraged gaming, acceptance will continue to bloom. Not only is gaming not going away, we’re really just seeing the tip of the proverbial iceberg here.”

When it comes to potential pitfalls of gamified learning, however, Sue Bohle cautions teachers that simply incorporating game elements like rewards or competitive play into a learning program doesn’t necessarily guarantee positive results.

“I differentiate between ‘gamification’ and ‘serious games,’” says Bohle.

“A number of companies, seeing the research on the engagement game mechanics can bring, have slapped a few elements of game play onto traditional educational materials and called those products gamified,” she explains.

“A truly effective serious game needs to be designed from the ground up, and include learning objectives and a system of measurement. Some educational games have no reward system at all. Not even a sense of ‘winning’ or ‘finishing.’ Those are elements of game play, but not the only elements.”

In closing, Bohle says that while games can and will have a positive impact in educational settings, we’re still at the beginning of an industry and are only just learning how to design and measure great learning games.

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