Gamification’s role in the future of online learning

By Heriot-Watt University
Heriot-Watt University examines the role of gamification in making learning more enjoyable and engaging, while supporting the education of SEN students

Education has always been willing to test new ways to maintain student engagement. 

Thanks to research from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, we can see that there’s been a decrease in the rate of students dropping out, down to 5.3% of students who began their first degree in 2019–2020. This is the lowest rate on record. Keeping up engagement and having students actively enjoy their studies can help to lower these percentages further.

But how can we be sure to keep students interested and encouraged to contribute and perform well in assessments? The gamification of education - where you make learning more enjoyable and engaging for students by using game design features - could be the answer.

In this article, specialists from Heriot-Watt University examine gamification within the world of education. 

What is gamification?

Gamification is the process of applying concepts from gaming into teaching to better engage students. Video games have emerged as a prominent form of entertainment for all ages, and what makes them enjoyable can be applied to learning environments, too.

The idea of play being used as a learning tool has existed for a long time, with theorists like Jean Piaget and Leonard Vygotsky in 1962 proposing an important link between cognitive development and play.

Video game design has plenty of appealing features with which to engage students. These range from complex environments that require decision making and problem solving to progress, to feeling confident to experiment and take risks to get a glimpse at all sorts of outcomes as a result. 

Story and narrative elements of games are also beneficial for keeping engagement consistent as they help increase investment into character and thematic developments.

There are numerous examples of gamification in education, such as an educator in the Houston Independent School district who created “quests” for their 250 students which were additional homework tasks. These students voluntarily completed 27,000 of them and saw a boost in student talk time by 300%.

Benefits of gamification 

Integrating a gamified environment for learning into academic structures can offer students who may struggle with traditional teaching methods a new and improved option that could improve their learning and engagement. In fact, a study by ScienceDirect found that students who experienced a learning environment that blended traditional learning with play saw an increase in performance by up to 89.45% in some cases.

Online learning could see huge benefits from gamified learning as the tools and technology such as apps and games can be accessed remotely. No matter where you are in the world, online study can be made more interactive to encourage more involvement with lectures or seminars.

The digital nature of the tools means you can track progress over time with greater ease than paper methods. Data from students’ assessment marks can be pulled into a document so the lecturers can accurately examine and give feedback on their progress, and better understand what can be done to help further development on an individual basis.

Looking to the future

With technology in a constant state of evolution and flux, it’s almost guaranteed that education will find more ways to integrate it into teaching strategies. 

Younger generations are being raised in a world of technology and apps so they should take to these new methods of learning with more ease than any that came before them.

If the evolution of gamification in learning continues and becomes a more widely accepted concept for lecturers all over the globe, the technology used for gamification could also develop, into being more accepting of emerging technology. 

Virtual reality and the metaverse is a topic of conversation in the tech world that could greatly contribute to the world of learning, with concepts of virtual classrooms that could transport students to digitally recreated landscapes in history through their VR headsets. Again, this would offer a more engaging and immersive way of learning than just reading from a textbook. 

The utilisation of educational technology during the pandemic, when online learning was required, increased teachers’ and lecturers’ confidence with using this technology. This has led experts within the sector to predict that the market will see a growth equivalent to a compound annual rate of 29% from 2021 to 2027

There is no guarantee that every student will directly benefit from gamified approaches to learning, and there will more than likely be some who it doesn’t work for at all. However, it’s less about creating a solution that works for everyone and more about integrating an alternative to traditional teaching methods. That way, no one feels left behind and can progress at their own unique pace. 

Gamification offers a unique and fun way to approach the more difficult tasks that some students might struggle with.


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