Gamifying Education [7 ways to make learning fun]

Have you ever noticed how people slog away on a single level of a game like Candy Crush?
Many of these same individuals don’t consider themselves as persevering and won’t slog away in similar fashion in their academics or real life.

Why is that?

How can these games make someone work so hard even though they don’t consider themselves a hard worker?
How can we use some of these principles to design better learning experience?

Here are some of the principles of game design which can be directly transferred to academic learning. 

Raise difficulty in small increments

Try to remember the games which hooked you at one point or the other. For me, it’s Angry Birds, Candy Crush, Brain Dots, Bike Rivals, etc. 
These games start off easy and build the difficulty in small increments. Almost all levels seem to be just within reach if you have done the previous level.
Most successful games are designed that way. 

So it makes sense to start the test real easy and raise difficulty level slowly as per the understanding of the student.
New Softwares have made this possible. So a student can quickly progress to the level at which they are and spend time on that. This ensures that all students are working at a difficulty level which suits them.

Keep them in the flow

Being in flow means that you feel so engaged that you forget time, food, sleep and anything besides the task you are doing. 
When you are in flow, you get all the pleasure from doing the act itself, and not by some future reward it will get. You are really living in the now.
Flow is the eventual state in which you want to be doing your everyday activities.
Most people experience flow at one point or the other in their life.

You achieve flow when Skill level and difficulty level are in sync i.e. when the difficulty is just out of reach.

How to be in flow

What can stop the flow?

Various things that can affect flow are stress, distraction, the mismatch between difficulty and skill. 
We lose interest in a game if we can’t do the initial levels or if the instructions are not clear. 
We also lose interest if we can do levels with ease.

Studies work in a similar fashion.
If you can’t understand anything, you will simply give up. However, if you don’t feel of accomplishment in doing easy problems for a long time, you will eventually give it up for something more interesting.
Also, if you just don't understand what is expected of you, flow fizzles.

Conventionally, all students in a class learn the same thing. So, average students are somewhat engaged, not in flow but at least mentally present in the class. However, students who already know or have understood the subject matter are bored. At the same time, students who feel week at a particular topic struggle to understand what's happening. These two categories are not engaged. To put them in flow, they need to work on the level which is just out of their reach. That's where technology steps in - to be discussed later. 

Immediate feedback and chance to improve while it’s still hot. 

The Idea behind tests isn't to label children with varying intelligence but to establish their current understanding. But it has been mostly reduced to labeling. This can be reversed easily. 

When playing a game, we get immediate feedback in terms of level passed, failed, one star, five stars, etc.  However, for tests, we get feedback after a day or more.
Immediate feedback in games conveys our shortcomings immediately and gives a chance to try again and overcome them. 
However, in studies, we get feedback after a day or more when we are already disengaged from our action. We get the result, realize that we can’t do much but accept our failings and hope to do better in the next test. 
Whatever push and motivation we get immediately after receiving the test score fizzles by the next test. 

The great thing is that we can use the same technology to give immediate feedback for tests which we are already using for games. You couple that with an immediate re-test and you have a winner.

Competition with self, and then others

Games allow you to play in private, and once you are good enough to play with others, you can compete with various people around the globe. 

Competition with others can be humbling because there’s always someone better than you. It motivates you to do better.

It's easy to think of test design in similar fashion
First, you compete with self - you see your progress from 10 to 20 all the way up to 90 or 100. It motivates you to do more, to score 100 every time as you know you can because your performance graph says so.
It also protects you from (degrading) comparisons when you are not performing so well and gives a chance to work on it until you become better.

Once you achieve a minimum score set by game rules or by yourself (whichever higher), you should you be allowed to compete with others.

Contests and prizes

Just like in games, students should be able to compete live - based on accuracy and speed. 

Everybody likes money - give the students virtual coins to play and compete. They can earn coins by competing with other players. Also, give options to play at higher and lower stakes depending on the difficulty level.
Raise the stakes as level progress. It works very well with Bike rivals. I am pretty sure it would work same with Math and Physics as well.

Pair similar performing students as it leads to healthy competition. The underlying psychology being "if I do slightly better, I am going to beat the other player". This pushes students to put that extra bit of effort.


Show boards with overall ranking among so you can compare coins and levels of difficulty you are at in the competition.

How do you engage students? What's your key takeaway from this post? Would you like to share an experience or add something to the list? Please mention in comments.

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