We are living in the future! Have no doubt; if you have a computer in your pocket like your smartphone, a Roomba that sweeps your floors, if you Snap or communicate using micro-video messaging and tweet, you are living in the future. Our lives have changed drastically in the last decade and many more changes are in the horizon. Generational changes are becoming more pronounced within the millennial (Generation Y) and post-millennial (Generation Z) generation learners. The fast pace of change presents us with many challenges in educational and professional environments. To keep up, teacher-scholars at the forefront of their profession have been experimenting with different approaches to teaching and learning. One such non-traditional approach, gamification and game-based learning in higher education.

What is ‘gamification’?

Gamification and game-based learning are not new to teaching and learning, however as the millennials (Generation Y) and tech natives (Generation Z) start moving into higher education as learners, they are becoming more commonplace. Deterding and colleagues (2011) worked on a definition of gamification to clarify the conceptual confusion among scholars and teachers. Their definition focused on using game elements in non-game contexts, distinguishing between play and gaming, identifying and categorizing game elements.

Game-based learning is the act of learning through the use of serious games, a more specific application of gamification processes. Games have been a part of education for the last few decades through strategy simulations, thus we are no stranger to implementing these tools and game elements into our curricula. Still it is a highly debated technique.

‘Fine but what is the discussion about?’ you say…

Educators on both sides of the issue have strong and valid arguments; but agree that the implementation yields different results with different learners and learning paradigms (Wu, 2012). Proponents of the design technique say it gains attention and commitment for a longer period of time (Rajdor & Dragolea 2011). The competitive, collaborative and progressive nature of a gaming experience suits the progression of learning objectives in this type of a class. If a self-paced, progressive structure can be implemented, the students can graduate onto advanced modules based on their performance in earlier modules. Students who have not been able to master the earlier modules will have more opportunities to reinforce their learning in the specific areas they are lacking. Other advantages of gamification focus on the soft benefits such as the freedom to failure and effort (persistence), freedom to experiment, interpret, and take upon different identities (empathy)(Klopfer& Salen, 2009).

These promises are counteracted by worries of misplaced motivation and gaming element that overshadows the learning objective itself. From a practical perspective it requires time investment, not due to content creation, sharing or assessment; but to learn and implement the gameful design elements.

After reading the literature I could not decide if I was an opponent or proponent of gamification or if simply I was clueless and indifferent. Turns out I am not indifferent at all, because I really wanted to see how my students would perform in a gamified class. So this semester I have been piloting an implementation of this technique into one section of my introductory marketing class. It’s only been 10 weeks but I learned quite a bit, and there is a quite a bit more to learn…

Pacman Game over screen

If you are still interested, here is what I did…

Instead of weekly chapters or modules to be completed in a textbook, I curated relevant material and activities that would become available via adaptive release. This helps individualize the progression of the learner. The content is then scaffolded progressively with a narrative and quest lines. Simply put, the learners can only progress through the levels if they have scored a satisfactory score in the quest, by completing challenges. Depending on the learner, progression may require multiple attempts and this structure also allows for any learner to attempt each challenge multiple times to master the content, rather than pass with a one-time, sufficient score.

The reward mechanisms also differ from a regular grade-based course, mostly semantically. In this course learners gain Experience Points (XPs) for undertaking these small quests [credit]. If they go beyond what is asked of them by doing other exercises that cover a topic beyond the course’s core, they earn Q-passes, which enable them to pass a question in the midterm or final exam [extra-credit].

Lastly, the term project of this course is structured as a grand quest, which requires team effort and collaborative progression on to the next levels of the course. Among the activities there are a few game-based learning experiences (i.e. Kahooting, role playing, scavenger hunts, etc.) I also tried out. While the sequential structure is different; the content and the assessments learners complete are kept the same across the gamified and non-gamified sections in this course. This will enable comparison, actually the first results are in, but that should be a topic for yet another post…

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