More Research, Please

More Research, Please


Last weekend the New York Times online carried an article that should be of great interest to anyone fascinated by the power – and peril – of software in learning. Taking a look at educational software vendors, their business successes and some school board clients, the writer clearly points out a yawning gap between marketing and statistical efficacy. In a nutshell, it seems that research doesn’t support the claims of software vendors at improving standardized test scores through learning software.

Gamification in Education is in a similar (if more gestatory) position, and we must take care not to fall into a comparable trap. Our promising early results, extraordinary case studies and passionate advocates must – in time – be backed up by real world research that is methodologically sound and focused on the right outcomes. This need for further research should not diminish the enthusiasm and experimentation of our leading doers – they are clearly driving the discussion from practical experience. But this is precisely the reason we announced the Gamification Alliance at GSummit in September. As an industry we want to catalyze and support the research that will make Gamification ever-more effective – ultimately improving lives across a range of fields, from product design to education, health and democratic participation.

Just as in the NYTimes article, it can be tempting to dismiss exciting case studies and early results either because they are ultimately connected to a profit motive or not effectively backed up by research (whether good or bad). But the other side of the story (e.g. how school districts are bullied into protecting teachers) or the core methodological errors (e.g. what tests measure) are equally important. This does not diminish the need for rigor in any way, but highlights the need for many voices to be present during the discussion of what we measure and which promising leads to chase down.

Together as an industry, we intend to foster greater research connections than ever before, and look forward to understanding how (and what) best to scale from the successes of Gamification. Meanwhile, we must understand the objectives and research vetting software in the classroom and learn from their mistakes – ensuring we are results driven and methodical in our approach.


Need help with behavioral science and gamification? Get in touch with our boutique consulting agency Dopamine.


  1. yeah some people think learning should be solely intrinsic and so there shouldn’t be any need for fun or motivation, and that gamification cheapens or distorts the learning process.