Gamified Education Is a New Model of Learning
Critics of gamified education always seem to miss some major points:
1) Gamified education is much more than making mundane activities like work and study fun
2) What makes a game fun is constant learning
3) Not all gamified activities are fun, but they’re engaging
4) Gamified education is the best way to leverage our new technologies to gain the necessary skills and knowledge in the information age
Gamified education should be advocated for its most practical reason: It’s the best method we know on how to organize learning environments to increase knowledge in both diversity and density. Gamified education is not merely an improvement from the current traditional educational model; it’s a completely new innovative way of learning. The traditional educational model is passive and linear; the student sits in a desk to listen a lecture or reads a book. Gamified education is action based and nonlinear, this is significant in many deep levels.
There are two types of knowledge, Explicit and Tacit. Explicit is transferable to other people; this is content like books or lectures. Tacit knowledge is exclusively learned through action and cannot be articulated. You can articulate to someone how to ride a bike, but they won’t be able to operate the bike until they develop their tacit knowledge through trial and error in handling the bike. The development of tacit knowledge is significant in the military and medical fields where training is done through realistic virtual simulations.
But that’s not all, the retention rate of explicit knowledge, which is what traditional education focuses on, increases dramatically through game based learning:
Game based learning isn’t simply about creating an educational video game; it’s about leveraging New Media (blogs, YouTube, search engines) to create a learning community. In the book A New Culture of Learning John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas give a distinct description on how this is happening with games like World of Warcraft and explain how this method of community building can be leveraged for educational purposes. An example is a project from MIT called Scratch aimed to teach children programming skills. The community is an extension of the main software and turns the platform into a game like experience.
Game designer Raph Koster, author of A Theory of Fun, theorizes that what makes a game fun is the process of constantly learning. When you have a game like platform where knowledge is applied, knowledge becomes a resource. The more you know, the better you are at the game. Many MMO players do mathematical calculations and spreadsheets to improve their performance… for fun! Not only is retention rates of knowledge higher when you immediately apply it in a game, it motivates the students to learn these content and skills in the first place.
The goal of a gamified educational process should be to create a system where improved performance in the game is based on skill (as opposed to time) and that this knowledge is transferable into the real world. But this doesn’t mean that the gathering of explicit knowledge (lectures, books, blogs, etc.) from traditional education is gone. Studies show that in order to become a Grandmaster chess player, deliberate practice and alone study must take place. Geoff Colvin calls this “increasing your map domain” in his book Talent Is Overrated. He also mentions the “multiplier effect” where performing a task (tacit knowledge) motivates the student to study harder (explicit knowledge) in order to perform better in that task, giving examples in sports and music.
The chess article mentioned earlier explains that play alone is not enough to create expertise, but that deliberate practice is the key activity for acquisition of expertise. They define deliberate practice as “appropriately challenging task that are chosen with the goal to improve a particular skill.” This is linked to the game concept of flow, and even though the activity is not fun, it’s highly engaging, which I argue is still gamification. Gamified learning seems to create an intrinsic motivation for new acquisition of knowledge which motivates the players to constantly learn.
In my opinion, gamified education should work as a holistic loop between personal study, New Media-based learning communities and game-based platforms for play. The variation of time between these activities must depend on what is being learned. Chess is stable and the rules don’t change, so improvement in performance over time is maximized through alone study and less play. Play though, is the best way to learn enormous amounts of new content. Playing is children’s way of learning these enormous amounts of new content, and in a world of constant change play based learning is our best tool to absorb and understand all the new knowledge around us in the information age.
CC Image by Phil Romans