Expert Educator Columns
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Shafaque Riaz: Gamified Learning Experience for 21st Century Learners


by Shafaque Riaz
Expert Educator Columnist, UAE

Gamification is the use of game elements and design techniques in non-game contexts. I will start with an example of Nike Plus Accelerometer fitted in Nike Shoes. This device tracks every single step you take when you are running. It tells how far and how fast are you running. It communicates wirelessly with a smart phone. It makes the experience of running more like a game that tells how fastest you run, the longest run you ever had and various kinds of tracking data. You can compare yourself to previous times. You can establish goals and challenges. You get medals and points for achieving those goals. You can compete with your friends and get encouragement from friends. It makes the experience of running more like a game. You are not sitting down in front of your computer and playing a running game, you’re actually going out and running. The game structure around this built in device helps to encourage you to run and make whole experience of running richer and more rewarding.

The gamification process in education comes down to the game design mechanics, applied to the learning program. Game mechanics can be classified as self-elements or social-elements. These Self-elements could be points, achievement badges, levels, or simply time restrictions. These elements get students to focus on competing with themselves and recognizing self-achievement. Social-elements on the other hand, are interactive competition or cooperation, like for example leaderboards. These elements put the students in a community with others, and their progress and achievements are made public.

Gamification of education can be done by wrapping educational content in game mechanics to drive motivation, engagement, and retention. An interesting example of these techniques are demonstrated by Khan Academy and in Motion Math Game by use of rewards, instant feedbacks and individual progression trajectories.

I have attempted some of these mechanic and elements, with varying degrees of success in my classroom to increase my students’ motivation and achievement. Some of them are

Ready to take risk and learn from failure

Game design often encourages players to experiment without fear of causing irreversible damage by giving them multiple lives, or allowing them to start again at the most recent ‘checkpoint’. If students are encouraged to take risks and experiment, the focus is taken away from final results and re-centered on the process of learning instead. The effectiveness of this change in focus is recognized in modern pedagogy as shown in the increased use of formative assessments. This practice is more focused on learning process then end results. Students are free to take their decisions to progress and learn from their failures.


Instant feedback is a critical element in learning. The more frequent and targeted feedback is highly prevalent in game design. Games level design ensures players to practice and apply what they have learnt. Feedback is given at every step and often summarized at the end of a level or in boss battles, which require players to integrate many of the separate skills they have picked up in prior battles with lesser enemies.

Storytelling and Fantasy

Another aspect of game design that can positively impact learning in the classroom is the use of storytelling and narrative. SimCity tells the story of building a city from the ground up. Monopoly tells the story of becoming rich through property ownership at the risk of losing it all. People learn facts better when the facts are embedded in a story. Fantasy has both cognitive and emotional advantages in designing instructional environments. In gaming experience young learners cope with learning new things and link to previous learning. The games easily relate to children’s popular culture and thus make the learning relevant to them by creating fantasy.

Rewards and Motivation

Arbitrarily adding point systems to learning situations is not gamification. It’s more like pointification aiming for extrinsic motivation. Successful games have a strong story narrative and the same would apply to gamified learning. Rewards given to learner are meaningful to them for completing challenges and achieving designated goals.

Gamification should not be seen as a simple solution to motivate students. Creating gamified learning is a complex and time consuming process (Bourgault, 2012). There are variant constraints to apply new trend of gamification. In my next post I will discuss that what competences are required to adopt appropriate gamification strategies.



1 Comment

  1. Privileges, if they can be analogized with bagdes, are provided in religion. For example, where there is a class of Priests in a religion, the ascension of a member of the class is symbolized with privileges or status promotions. Even where there is no such class of priests, privileges and increase in status within the religion is available.This is a crude analogy for bagdes, perhaps. It may be worthwhile to explore other ways of badgification, if we could coin such a term

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