Why Gamification Helps Us Learn Better
In every task that must be done, according to Mary Poppins, there is an element of fun. Disney’s magical nanny recommends turning any chore into a game to help things go down much easier – and research shows that she’s not wrong, especially when it comes to the task of learning new things. Gamifying the process of learning not only makes it more appealing, but can be faster and more effective than trying to memorize facts or other methods. It's not a new concept in the classroom, but with the rise of e-learning, digital gamification has been gaining traction for both young people and adults. To find out why, let’s press play on level one.
10 Points if You Know What “Gamification” Means
To “gamify” something means to bring in elements of gaming mechanics. Common game elements include collecting points, leveling up, earning badges, and being in competition with others or yourself. Humans have been playing games to have fun and enhance leisure time for thousands of years, but the rise of computer and online gaming has quite literally taken things to another level. Gamification can be found everywhere online – from marketing gimmicks to fitness apps, loyalty programs, productivity trackers and, increasingly, educational platforms. The development of software to gamify learning is a huge tech trend as it becomes more popular within schools and higher education, as well as for skills training and professional development in industry.
Gaming? Congratulations! You Win a Dopamine High!
One of the most powerful draws of gaming is the dopamine hit we get when we achieve something – when we win a point, or reach the next level, or master the game. Dopamine is a hormone that transmits positive feelings through the nervous system, which is why it is associated with pleasure and reward (and also linked to addiction). The anticipation of this – and other feel-good chemicals, like endorphins – flooding the system is incredibly motivating, and as a result, bringing gamification into the learning process can aid both motivation and focus. Students tend to find the experience of learning much more attractive when they associate it with feeling good, and are driven to spend longer doing it when there are incremental “rewards” involved that trigger the dopamine high – such as digital badges, affirmative messages, or other game mechanics that create an immersive experience.
Learning to Level-Up
The experiential nature of gaming is another important factor in how it can aid learning. Humans have been passing down oral history through song and poetry for millennia because storytelling helps us remember information. Gamification – whether it involves strategy, role-play, luck, dexterity or collaboration – creates a narrative around the material that we can connect with on an emotional level and therefore take in more effectively. This is all because positive emotions contribute to the neuroplasticity of the brain. Gamification is not just about encouraging engagement, motivation, or focus, but about making sure the learning itself is efficient and effective. When we learn new things, we create neural pathways in the brain – and positive emotions like gratitude and excitement, which trigger dopamine and serotonin, aid this process. The brain then becomes more malleable so that information sticks, ready to be retrieved again at a later date.
Game Over? Not Yet
The advantages of gamification to aid the process of learning are becoming more widely appreciated, but there are wider benefits too. Gamification can bring more inclusivity to learning, especially for neurodiverse learners. The technological potential of gamification can bring more creativity and enjoyment to training and education, and more freedom than traditional teaching methods afford. One report points to the potential of the “four freedoms” of gamification: freedom to fail, experiment, try, and self-express. If education technology can embrace psychologically positive methodologies that build an affirmative mindset for learners, and especially young students, then let the games begin.
All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals that influenced this article: The Impact Of Gamification On Students’ Learning, Engagement And Behavior Based On Their Personality Traits; Gamification And The Future Of Education; D1-Receptor Impact On Neuroplasticity In Humans.
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