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Gamification is a Key to Motivating Students

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By Dr. Alfred Boyd, Jr.

Assistant Professor of Education, Mississippi Valley State University

It's infamous how much children play and enjoy video games. Parents everywhere despair of dragging their kids away from games in order to get them to do something or even just interact with them. This is so much the case that there is even an entry in the DSM-5 (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual published by the American Psychiatric Association) for video game addictions. However, this very quality of games to absorb and motivate children can be hijacked to help children. You may be surprised to find out that games and gamification can be extremely useful in education when utilized correctly.

As you may be able to guess, gamification is the process of taking elements from games to use in non-gaming settings. Though gamification has many broad applications, this article will specifically focus on its efficacy in increasing motivation. The gamification of tasks changes them in many significant ways. One example is to divide them into stages, placing some sort of reward (achievements, badges, etc.) at the end of each stage. This motivates the user to complete components of the task one at a time, rather than overwhelming him or her with a single huge task to accomplish, no end or reward in sight. And this example is just the beginning of what gamification can do.

Gamification and Motivation

In applying the principles of gamification to the classroom, it is critical to differentiate between game-based and game-informed teaching. Game-based teaching uses games in the classroom setting to teach and monitor the progress of students. Gamification, on the other hand, uses aspects of the gaming model in traditional classroom teaching to motivate students and reshape the learning process. Both have their place in education, but for a teacher without the resources to access a pool of educational games to assign students, gamification may be a more useful option.

By applying the motivational power of gamification to the motivation problems in learning, more effective learning can take place. One way to do this is by applying rewards to the learning process. Incentives like good grades, virtual rewards (titles, badges, points), and leveling up encourage students to participate more often and keep them coming back for more. Introducing these simple rewards into the curriculum is much easier than trying to create an immersion-style game that encompasses all the material and teaches exactly what's on the agenda.

Gamification and Failure

Gamification also changes students' relationship with failure. This is absolutely significant because the fear of failure or ridicule will cause many a student to refrain from asking questions when they need to. Even worse, repeated failure can be demoralizing enough that children will just give up, deciding they are stupid or "bad at school." This is devastating for the child and heartbreaking for the teacher and parents.

This is where gamification comes in. Researchers have found that children use a trial and error approach when gaming. "Failure" in a well-designed game is almost never a cause to stop playing. On the contrary, it usually motivates the player to pick the game up and try again, maybe attempting a new method or learning something from the previous failure that the player can do better in the next round of the game. Each failure is, in fact, a stimulus to change various minute details of his or her approach, making each round a constant learning experience. It is also an exercise in creativity as the player has to think of new ways to accomplish his or her goals, as the last one didn't work.

When teachers apply the principles of game design to the classroom, children no longer fear failure. Rather, they view it as a necessary part of learning. It's an opportunity to learn from the mistake and improve. Effort, rather than mastery, is rewarded in this type of a system. It reduces the stakes of each attempt and minimizing pressure to succeed at first try, which changes the student's relationship with failure.

These elements of gamification have been found to be extremely useful in improving children's learning experiences. They allow teachers to create personalized content that is specific to their environment and learning objectives. Furthermore, games have been found to be effective in teaching children values and information about the world around them that traditional methods might not effectively convey. Gamification is efficient and effective and should be incorporated into more educational settings worldwide.

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