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Gamification in Education: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly


Gamification has become hugely popular in all walks of life, including education.With problem-solving at its heart – alongside skills such as persistence, trial and error, creativity, imagination and resilience – there seems to be good reason why gamification is a natural partner to the learning process.

Indeed, it can be argued that all games contain an element of education. Take Angry Birds. To succeed, players need to work out the physical properties of different tower materials, the ballistics of the slingshot, the structural weaknesses of each tower… In effect, think like a physicist in a science experiment.

But it’s not quite so straightforward! Just like the best gamifications, there are several sides to this topic…


The good…


      • Gamification can help at any educational stage
        From toddlers identifying colors, letters and numbers, through to teenagers learning algebra, to student pilots using simulators.
      • Gamification helps both ways of gaining knowledge: being taught, and self-learning
        With self-learning, especially when it’s online or digital, gamification provides badly-needed interactivity between a student and the ‘instructor’, even when the latter’s actually just game-based logic. It can also help teachers, by reducing some of the responsibility to keep students motivated and involved, and providing welcome variety in pace and style.
      • It can add layers of engagement for students
        Gamification can increase understanding. Instead of just reading on the topic, students are actually doing something while going through the same content. It can also increase awareness, putting students into scenarios that make them do and understand things which, in normal computer-based training, they might ‘tune out’.
      • It can work outside the classroom too
        Gamification can reward many school-related issues, not just knowledge acquisition. For example students with perfect attendance records, or who hand in all homework assignments on time, could earn bonus “points”, which can accrue towards some form of reward scheme.


The bad


      • Repetition can reduce interest
        The problem with some gamification schemes is that, once the initial novelty has worn off, they can become repetitive and actually disengaging. This matters if you need students to use them several times to gain sufficient depth of understanding.
      • Losing and learning don’t always mix!
        The point of education is to motivate students to achieve. This doesn’t necessarily sit well with ‘games’, which usually involve an aspect of losing as well as winning.


The ugly


    • Gamification can get in the way
      Gamification is meant to add an aspect of interactivity to a task (i.e. learning or understanding something). Pure gaming, on the other hand, is pretty much an end in itself. If the balance tilts towards the latter, then a student isn’t benefitting in a genuinely useful way. They’re just playing.
    • If the gamification is poor, it can adversely affect how students perceive the content
      Students are savvy, and ruthlessly aware when something’s inferior. If they regard the gamification element as ‘rubbish’, then their opinion of the content it’s meant to support could also be tainted.