Does Game-Based Learning Work?

Today’s post is written by Anchal Manocha, #chat2lrn crew member and Founder of Design Storm ( Anchal has a background in psychology and is a new media expert. She is dedicated to helping organizations make learning fun and meaningful.

Game-based learning has been all the hype for the last two years. Requirements for game-based learning usually come in the form of:

  • We want people to collaborate more with each other. Can we add points for collaboration and reward them for it?
  • Not enough employees are interested in taking our learning offerings. Can we create game-based learning to increase enrolment?

As we know, game-based learning and gamification can resolve some of these issues. However, as the hype subsides, there are many voices that speak against it. What are the pitfalls of game-based learning that we should avoid?

  1. Content in the Garb of a Game

If we ask learners to “hit the football to answer the questions,” in one glance people can see the wolf in sheep’s clothing.  If we’re trying to push content by engulfing it in the skin of a game, we should be prepared to be disappointed.

Learning is in the very fabric of games. People enjoy games because slowly they learn to ace the system, to bend the rules, to work with other players, to resolve conflicts, to repeat their efforts till they’ve mastered the game and much more.

Games for learning should take advantage of these mechanics. Game design should facilitate interactions that lead learners to actually “use”, “explore” and “apply” the information or content we want them to learn.

There’s rarely room for presenting detailed explanations in a game. Learners should be the creators of their own meaning. Content should either emerge from play or it should be the context of play. It could be constructed by the player and formalized as the game progresses.

  1. Focusing Too Much on Extrinsic Rewards

We should ask ourselves: If I remove the external reward, does my solution still stand ground? Would people participate in the absence of rewards?

For example, playing a game of chess is its own reward. Through games, humans seek pleasure, mastery, competition, learning, collaboration, conflict, meaning, problem-solving etc. Incorporating this into our game-based learning solutions may bring out their true benefits.

Monetary rewards, relating results to performance or gamifying core work may, in fact, have a negative impact. This is because it takes away learners’ freedom to fail and try again.

  1. Creating Puzzles Instead of Games

Many times we fall into this trap. We end up with puzzles instead of games. So what’s the difference between the two?

Puzzles are something that people solve by themselves. The level of interpersonal interaction in solving a puzzle is low. Puzzles may be tests, while games are the learning environment.

As Eric Zimmerman, a game design theorist points out, a good game-based solution will include:

  1. Playfulness/fun
  2. Low stakes/Freedom to fail
  3. Gradual mastery and repetition
  4. Emergence of play, emotion, meaning, interaction and so on
  5. Winning and losing—usually an end to the game

Keeping the spirit of games alive, let’s keep learning!

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