Can gamification help us to create a more engaging further education?

Oliver Simko

Do you remember these hours and hours that maybe you, your colleges or friends spent voluntarily on playing World of Warcraft, Minecraft, Farmwille or playing footbal or weekly poker events? Do you realize how deeply engaged they were, when playing their preffered game? Would it not be great if our adult learners could be as engaged as the World of Warcraft players, or as concentrated as a players of chess?

In these days, we often hear about the buzzing concept of gamification. Gamification describes, what are the elements, mechanics and principles behind games that make us so engaged and how to apply these to non-game context.

The basic purpose is to make our real-life tasks more engaging. It may sound as utopia at the first moment, but successful gamified systems like Quest to learn,Khan academy, SCVNGR, Superbetter or Fitocracy are telling us, that if designed properly, gamified systems can be a great tool for improving engagement and motivation in our daily real-life tasks. I would like to draw more attention on the possibilities of this concept in the field of adult / lifelong learning.

Learning as fun

Imagine a student, who is devoured by solving mathematical exercise. Or a group of managers, who happily participate on training of soft-skills. Imagine that all of them consider their activities as FUN.

It may sound strange. But let’s say, that mathematical exercise is a key to solving a great story plot, which will lead our students to discover the true identity of a thief, who their game characters are pursuing. Or that the managers are actually running their own kingdom, and their ability to negotiate with raging barbarians may save their precious realm from attack.

We know that certain features found in game-environments evoke a variety of feelings, which humans truly enjoy and which activate their inner motivation.

Respect habits, goals and behavior

But how can we foster such feelings in a non-game environments? As Ralph Koster suggests, fun can and should be designed – we need to carefully and expressly design systems, which would respect the target group habits, goals, behavior and likeable personalities and use these data as a starting point for each gamified design with one core aim: unlock the fun. So the answer may be: provide the users meaningful choices, support them by game components, mechanics and dynamics (e.g. avatars, badges, quests, challenges, compettition, cooperation, progression, ) and tailor these elements on to our course curriculum, or training program.

When we look on an arbitrary educational field we can see that there are many elements listed above hidden in the structure of course.

In further education, we often see drop-outs and low motivated participants. One of the possible causes is that they are, from the very beginning, externally motivated. They foster their behavior by external factors as salary raise or law regulation. As a result, the inner motivation, the self determination for doing the task, is restricted.

Inner Motivation

As the behavioral economist Dan Ariely suggested, when we are facing tasks that require cognitive activity, the ratio of success in them is directly connected to our inner motivation. With gamified design, we may be able to influence the learners’ initial motivation, (which could be based on external factors) and help them to become more engaged in the learning by fostering their inner motivation.

Gamified courses provide its participants not only with instant feedback of their progress, but also assure them that their newly acquired knowledge has a significant impact on themselves. The narrative aspect of a gamified design can keep the participants engaged. With support of the meaningful choices we can foster sense of autonomy, which is arguably an important aspect of learning.

The principal trick (and the largest threat) in gamified design is that the design should not drag participant’s attention from the real-life, or in our case an educational goal.

When thinking about getting their courses gamified, managers of education should keep this in mind. In further education field, we have our absolvent’s profile for course, and working with input information about participants and our target group, which allows gamificators to deploy adequate tools and aproaches.

Lifelong learning must take the chance

To wrap it up, I tried to point out that gamification can be a valuable tool for further / lifelong education.

The similarities between gamified and educational enviroments should not be overlooked. We have a great opportunity to test, if the set of thoughtfully designed challenges, quests, and competitive / collaborating tasks with strong reliance to ones inner motivation can produce fun and engage our participants to have better outcomes in further / lifelong education. We can think about, how to use onboarding and scafollding to attract and reach new target groups in lifelong learning.

Gartner suggests, that over 70 percent of 2000 global organizations will have at least one gamified application by 2014. We should take this chance to take our part and help to shape this emerging field, from view of a lifelong learning and further education.

European InfoNet Adult Education, 19.02.2014