Gamification is the concept of applying game design techniques to non-gaming environments, to improve user experience (UX), and increase user engagement. Game based e-Learning, provides an interactive pedagogy, generating a positive emotional response, and successful learning outcomes. Previous research has indicated that learners not only like the game design elements of gamification, they also expect to achieve their goals as a result of them.

Game based learning methods; the immersion and flow state of serious play, can promote effective learning behaviours. Gamification flow adopts a spiral curriculum method of learning, where students begin with simple tasks to build their skills, and then advance to more challenging problems applying those skills developed during the initial stages of the course. The spiral curriculum approach, in conjunction with gamification, provides an iterative method of learning, where advancement is achieved with skills gained as the subject material deepens. New learning is based on previous learning, students advance as content becomes more complex, and topics can always be revisited. Both short and long term goals can be clearly defined and all within a supportive social network where students can have their work showcased, and are not afraid to take risks.

Gamification, when applied correctly to educational pedagogy, has the power to significantly engender student engagement and interest. Gamification creates a positive learning environment, which promotes self-motivation in students. Negative affective states produce negative learning outcomes. To overcome this negative state, immersion into the learning environment using gamification can enhance a positive affective state, known as flow. Flow provides the optimal learning experience where students are energized, fully involved, and anticipating success. Learning tasks must maintain a balance with skill levels in order to maintain flow.

Gamification allows students in e-Learning to begin to play the “game” early on, without having to spend too much time with introductions and protocols. Tasks that exceed the learners’ skill level will quickly lead to boredom, and thus negatively affect immersion and flow states. The complexity of the task at each level must not exceed the skills achieved in previous levels, or students may become bored and disillusioned, and this will have a negative effect on engagement. The level of challenge must be commensurate with the student’s level of skill. Gamification must provide attainable goals that pushes students out of their comfort zone. Pleasant frustration increases motivation and engagement.

Unlike traditional face-to-face learning environments, students can explore by trial and error in gamified learning environments. There are no harsh penalties for failure, with failure only requiring the repeat of tasks at that particular level. By constantly attempting a task using creative methods, students will eventually master a skill, and without any harsh penalties. Gamification, and a content rich environment, will hold the student’s interest, and actively encourage them to practice new concepts and skills. In gamified learning, students are not afraid to face challenges and in fact look forward to them.

Gamification in e-Learning systems borrows the concept of award mechanisms from digital games and students are awarded for skill mastery. Awards such as points, currency, and leaderboard positions, provide positive feedback to students, and allows them to have a sense of accomplishment. The reward system of gamification in eLearning enhances user engagement by promoting interaction with the learning environment.

Gamification: Case Study

In their online magazine: User Experience Professionals Association,  Rebecca Cheng, and Iris Poon considered gamification in relation to two online e-Learning platforms, to indicate their respective approaches to interactive design. They argue that e-Learning interactive design must consider not only incentives and motivation, but must also offer design strategies that aide the student to apply self-motivation that can positively affect their learning experience, and learning outcome. They applied game design principles to two online e-Learning courses, Duolingo, and Codecademy. Duolingo: an online language course, applies the principles of self-motivation and forethought, by assisting users to control their sessions and setting personal goals. Motivation in the form of social persuasion is applied with phrases such as in the use of the first person “I want to learn” displayed above the language selection area. The existing member numbers already learning that particular language are also displayed to assure the user that they too can master their chosen language.

Language Selection With Learner Numbers

Language Selection With Learner Numbers. Image Courtesy of Duolingo

Duolingo addresses the importance of both user experience (UX), and user interface (UI) design, to engage learners in self-monitoring and self-control of their goals, strategies, and motivation (Cheng, Poon 2016). The application provides a coach like feature where learners can set daily goals, and a progress panel which then displays, comparing goals with actual progress. Learners can interactively set specific strategies to meet their desired goals. A skills tree changes colour from grey through to gold when the course material is completed, providing a visual clue to the user to monitor their self-efficacy throughout the learning process. In addition, the user can reach out for peer support from individuals more knowledgeable in the particular language.

Duolingo assists users in reflecting on their progress and examining their level of self- satisfaction, with visual tools such as a progress bar, mastery level colours, and fluency scores. These interactive elements help the user in planning similar tasks in the future. A “Strengthen Skills” feature reminds users to practice the words they learnt. Social interaction in the form of peer leaderboards allows users to follow one another’s progress, and a type of currency known as “Lingots” can be gifted between peers to strengthen performance.

Language Skill Tree

Language Skill Tree. Image Courtesy of Duolingo

During the forethought phase of learning on the coding platform Codecademy, users are shown the learner benefits of the course, to stimulate their interest. To demonstrate the intrinsic value of the courses on offer, Codcademy displays user’s success stories on their index, speaking directly to learners ambitions with Life Story statements such as “This is magic. Wow. I can do anything now”.

Beginner level coding tutorials are designed to help students design their own learning path with clear achievable goals. Beginners are offered simplified challenges prior to the choice of learning path to promote self-efficacy and motivation. Tasks as simple as entering their name into sample code are displayed in the initial phase, to enable students to feel more confident with the self-learning process.

Animate Your name

Animate Your name. Image Courtesy of Codecademy

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