Gamification: Keeping educational tech purposeful

There’s a big, bad buzzword in educational tech: gamification. It’s a biggie for us, being at the core of what we do at Geoglot, but it’s so often misunderstood. Recently, a member of the team had the privilege of being invited to speak at the University of Nottingham about just that, leading to some really thoughtful discussion of the team and what it means for teachers and learners using tech.

The problem with the term ‘gamification’ is its very simplicity – the word ‘game’ is right there, bold and brassy, leading many to assume that it’s all about replacing learning with fun and games. Well, games can be a part of learning, for sure, but the whole idea of learning becoming a game is problematic. It suggests that all the effort and hard work is taken out of it. The danger is that the game becomes the whole point, rather than the end goal of assimilating knowledge.

Instead, we believe it’s better to think of gamification in a slightly more nuanced fashion; rather than replacing the learning process with games, it’s more about supporting and enhancing existing learning with elements of gaming. These elements might be competitive, adding scoring and personal challenge; they might be audiovisual, adding animations or attractive, responsive feedback. But always, at the core, the learning has to be the chief goal, and not upstaged by the mechanics of the game.

It’s tempting to go for the snazzy distractions of over-gamified content, especially in the classroom; so many times, the team has come across the humble (and not particularly effective) word search being used to ‘keep them occupied / quiet / focussed’ in class. The trouble is, activities like word searches are high on the absorption scale, and woefully low on learning content; they’re the worst offenders in failing to move beyond shallow learning to true assimilation of patterns in context.

Interrogate the tech

When choosing educational tech, this is always a good rule of thumb to follow: what takes priority? The game play or the learning material? The very best apps will strike a good balance between the two, being fun but pedagogically sound and purposeful as well. Questions to ask of good language apps include:

  • Does the material go beyond words in isolation (word level > sentence level)?
  • Do the activities support language patterns rather than just static, dictionary-style examples?
  • Do competitive elements ‘steal the show’, or does the language remain central?

Interrogate learning material in this way, and you’ll go a long way to keeping it purposeful, either in your own learning or those that you teach. That balance is hard to find, and everyone in education tech is learning, too; and it’s through interrogation of topics like gamification that we’ll move closer to the perfect hybrid of learning and fun.

Leave a Reply