We all love games, and it is therefore no surprise that industry leaders have figured out how to use this to their advantage, causing gamification to slowly infiltrate our life in numerous ways. This is not a bad thing – quite the opposite, in fact, as it can be extremely beneficial for those involved. A standard technique nowadays in marketing and sales is the use of rewards and loyalty programs, used to strengthen customer connections. However, gamification has also made its way into e-learning systems and can be a great educational tool if applied correctly.
In the following section we will discuss the pros and cons of gamification, but first we need to define what it actually refers to. Gamification is the application of game elements into other contexts. It is about making boring things fun and spicing up user experiences, with the overall goal of improving user engagement and loyalty. In e-learning, it is often built right into a learning management system. Here it can take on numerous forms such as awarding badges, points, rewards, and other forms of acknowledgement of user competencies.
While it an exciting modern educational tool, gamification comes with advantages and disadvantages, both for the users and the educational providers.
Advantages for Educational Providers
Gamification is backed by research and is linked to positive effects (Hamari, Koivisto and Harri 2014). Providers can gain competitive advantage by offering contemporary concepts, which can attract students and lead to an increase in referrals. It is not only a great tool to brand oneself as an attractive learning opportunity but has also practical use in a daily routine: Most games are highly automated, and trainer capacities can be directed to areas where they are needed. Fast feedback allows educational providers to identify their students’ strengths and weaknesses and to tailor their programs.
Advantages for Students
Students can greatly benefit from smart game-design elements, as it is an entertaining way to gain knowledge. The role of fun should not be underestimated: The neurotransmitter dopamine is released when we play games. It controls the part of the brain that is responsible for pleasure and therefore creates a feeling of enjoyment. The generation of our current students has grown up with electronic games; they are “digital natives”, and so playful game approaches feel familiar to them.
Some argue that through games, knowledge absorption and retention are improved. One of the reasons for this is the rapid feedback that we mentioned above, which helps students to directly reflect on their strategies and to adjust them, leading to a better understanding of the challenge. This is supported by the transparency of most games, as there are usually clearly stated goals and an unambiguous pathway to achieving them.
Notwithstanding the above, gamification is not a universal solution that magically improves learning experiences for students and increases profit for educational providers. Quite the opposite, in fact; to be successful, gamification solutions have to be well-designed, executed, and updated. Looking at the disadvantages of gamification, again there are two perspectives: the student and the business perspectives.
Disadvantages for Educational Providers
There are mixed opinions on the use of games in e-learning systems. Some argue that gamification spoils students unnecessarily and gives them an unrealistic impression of life and work. While this is a philosophical view that may not concern educational providers, money certainly concerns them. Games are expensive to develop. They take up resources, time, and energy before they can be launched. Then, they need to be supervised, maintained, and updated. They don’t necessarily need to pay for themselves, but they can be a money trap if not wisely planned and integrated.
Disadvantages for Students
It has been noted above that gamification may positively influence knowledge absorption and retention. It has also been argued, though, that games have to be meaningful, as otherwise students can get distracted from learning objectives or get lost in the simulated environment (Bellotti et al. 2010). Poor design can lead to confusion in students and, in the worst cases, disengagement. However, games that are too attractive can lead to game addiction – although this is very unlikely in the e-learning world, as the games serve a purely educational purpose that is usually of a less enticing nature.
Some students, however, find games simply annoying and a waste of time. One should not forget that every student learns in a different way, and some simply do not thrive on games but prefer different channels that may be more straightforward. Those students will not experience the games as a positive part of their program.
In summary, gamification can be a great modern way to enhance learning experiences and to engage students. However, it needs to be well planned and executed to ensure its success. Games should provide a meaningful and authentic context in which students can act to later transfer their new knowledge to real-world contexts and problems.
Bellotti, F, Berta, R, De Gloria, A & Primavera, L 2010, “Supporting authors in the development of task‐based learning in serious virtual worlds’worlds”, British Journal of Educational Technology, vol. 41, no. 1, pp. 86-107.
Hamari, J, Koivisto, J, & Sarsa, H 2014, “Does Gamification Work? – A Literature Review of Empirical Studies on Gamification”, Proceedings of the 47th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, Hawaii, USA, January 6–9, pp. 3025–3034, doi:10.1109/HICSS.2014.377.
Vlachopoulos, D, & Makri, A 2017, “The effect of games and simulations on higher education: a systematic literature review”, International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 1–33, doi 10.1186/s41239-017-0062-1.