Five Reasons to Gamify Learning in Your Classroom

What is Gamified Learning? 

Gamified instruction uses design components of games and integrates them into classroom learning in some way. Many researchers have placed emphasis on specific differences between gamified learning and game-based learning, which has been defined as integrating a specific game to cultivate skills that are uniquely addressed in the game chosen. So, although gamified learning might use a particular game in instruction, this game is not the end goal of the lesson as it can be with game-based learning. Whether using a game-based learning or gamified-learning approach, it is imperative to think through intention when preparing instruction. What is the goal of the activity? What knowledge, skills, and experiences should students gain through their participation? When we start with these core questions, we can incorporate gamified lessons to help further engage students and make the learning fun. Here are five additional benefits to adding gamified elements and instruction into your classroom. 

1. Students learn through experience. 

Gamified instruction requires active participation. Students experience the learning rather than passively taking it in. Therefore, gamification can empower students to engage in and be the drivers of their own learning. Students can draw their own conclusions from these experiences rather than having a teacher tell them what they are supposed to get out of it. It can also provide opportunities for students to learn from each other instead of the instructor. When students are given choices to discover and experience their learning, it is a more engaging and effective way to learn. As John Dewey said, “Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking, or the intentional noting of connections; learning naturally results.” 

2. It builds executive function skills. 

Providing students with opportunities to play games or use gamified elements can help build executive functioning skills. According to research done at Harvard University, playing games gives students practice in skills that strengthen working memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility. Competency of these skills can help students complete tasks, more easily modify strategies or priorities, ignore distractions, and retain attention. When students have strong executive functioning skills, the benefits can be seen in many facets of their lives. Executive functioning skills can even be a predictor of achievement. In fact, Wendy Ostroff, author of the book Cultivating Curiosity in K-12 Classrooms, says that testing well on executive functioning skills is a key way to predict a student’s success in school. Gamified experiences support students in learning how to manage their emotions. There are rules to follow in games, just like there are rules in life. And when the game does not go their way, students get to practice failure, which is an imperative part of the learning process. Failing in a game can feel much safer than failing during a typical class lesson. 

3. It incorporates play, which is imperative for students of all ages. 

When discussing gamified learning, play is also inherently a part of the conversation. When students are participating in gamified instruction, they are playing a game to some extent. Play is important because it is how students can learn without consequences. Because it is self-directed, it challenges students while they are in a low-stress environment and allows them to experiment, explore, and fail as a method of learning. Play might look different as students get older, but it is still imperative to the learning process. It enables curiosity and creativity in students because they are given the space to ask questions and pursue their own answers. 

4. Students practice 21st-century skills. 

Adding gamified elements into teaching practices can cultivate 21st-century skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, perseverance, and communication. For example, in order to compete in any game, students typically follow a strategy or plan of some kind. However, before a strategy can be employed, students brainstorm creative approaches and critically think about which strategy makes the most sense. Then, they try to follow the strategy they landed on, but game situations constantly shift and require flexibility and perseverance. Students must continuously reevaluate their strategy while competing, and when one strategy fails, they must try a new one. Collaboration and communication look different in every gamified experience, but they are always a part of the game. Students will need to practice and master 21st-century skills in order to be prepared for a future that we cannot yet predict. Although these skills can be fostered in other situations, gamified learning is a unique approach that gives students a chance to practice in a low-risk environment. 

5. Gamifying can be culturally responsive. 

Gamifying instruction can be a way to employ culturally responsive teaching. Zaretta Hammond, author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students, says that although it can be misunderstood and simplified as teaching through a social justice lens, CRT is about accelerating student achievement, and one strategy of CRT includes utilizing students’ home cultural learning methods. CRT incorporates the strategies often used to teach at home in order to achieve learning growth. Games are one way families spend time together, and they are used as a tool for teaching their children valuable life lessons. According to Hammond, games also utilize elements that are embedded in some oral cultural traditions like, “repetition, solving a puzzle, making connections between things that don’t seem to be related.” In addition, as mentioned above, games are also a social experience. Gamifying the learning shifts the focus from a teacher-centered model to student centered. It gives students opportunities to connect, learn from, and help each other. In the book The Science Teacher’s Toolbox, co-authors Mandi White and Tara Dale write that when students are able to share and connect to both content and each other, they stay more engaged and are more likely to have a positive learning experience. When students can build relationships and hear perspectives different from their own, they feel safe to take risks that help them learn. This is imperative to student growth.