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Structure your gamified learning

Structure your gamified learning

Structure your gamified learning

Structure your gamified learning

Structuring learning is one of the hardest things for an instructor to do. Sometimes that means reusing a syllabus. Other times you have to fit 16 weeks’ worth of content into 10 weeks. In either case, making sure that your students meet all course learning outcomes in your course’s time frame can be difficult.

That’s when structuring you’re your class can be gamified. Many instructors rely on a schedule in order to break up their content. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t also use that time to gamify your structure.

Your progression system

One thing that many gamers will recognize is the progression system: complete this task, finish this level, beat that boss and you’ll earn coins, an item, or experience points. You’ll always end up getting something.  That something can also be used to codify what the learner has done. It rewards an achievement.
What most educators don’t know is that a class be structured the same way. It doesn’t have to be a progression of one topic area to the other.  Rather, you can take the time to scaffold your learners’ experiences in a meaningful way.

An example of this is structuring your students’ learning like a journey. Perhaps a journey that you go on with other students / players in your class where the outcome is the development of individual understanding.

A fantastic example of this is in the course “Fantastic Places, Unhuman Humans: Exploring Humanity Through Literature” offered at Brown University. In this class, students must serve as liaisons for humanity by communicating with an alien. They must interpret some of history’s greatest fiction stories in order to relate to another being what it is like to be human through our literature.

In this class and in other gamified learning systems there are instances where the learner tests their knowledge, skills, and abilities through assessments. Those assessments can be the test and quizzes that you’ve designed. But now, they are part of the story rather than just part of the schedule of your class.

Making mistakes

One of the challenging issues with education is the application of high stakes testing. This is where there are assessments for the students and learners to assess their progress. High stakes testing differs by having fewer, but more critical, tests that affect students’ grades.  What is not emphasized in this model is the ability for students to test and make mistakes on their own.

This learning through making mistakes provides students agency in how to demonstrate their own competence. An example of this is breaking up a large end of term assignment (like a final paper) and having students complete sections of it through the semester as the instructor covers content for that section. In this way, a high stakes assessment like a final paper is broken down over many steps that allow students to review their mistakes and correct them before submitting their final paper.

Pair this strategy within the framework of your students embarking on a journey and you can begin to see that learning through experience and structuring your class in a narrative framework can better, and more easily, engage your learners.

Finding a path

Often during a player’s journey they will become stuck and will need guidance on how to proceed. That information can be provided by the instructor in a class or through a companion or NPC in a game. But another way that games-based learning can be implemented is a reference to where information was presented before.

Anyone who has seen any hint screen in a game can vouch that there is an opportunity here to provide small reinforcing behaviors.  Those behaviors allow students to re-engage with content that was previously discussed. This provides the student agency in discovering for themselves where the answer is, how to re-access it, and how their learning as has been informed for the future.

Gamified testing

I’ve used platforms like Kahoot and EdPuzzle in order to reemphasize content for my students in a gamified environment. Sure, I could have used standardized testing and quizzes. But for a low stakes model of student engagement, these two tools fit the bill nicely.

What is important is to make these times of low stakes testing: small, iterative, and cumulative. That is, begin the process early and scaffold the knowledge that students have gained throughout the process in a way that mirrors the class’s own progression.

These short, formative assessments between learning sessions, go far in making sure that students are tested and re-engage with the content before the next class meeting.

Putting it into practice

Perhaps one of the best learning scenarios for students is the ability to apply their knowledge. For a writing intensive course that could be writing an essay. For other programs that could be applying learning in an experiential environment like an internship or lab work.

The important thing to emphasize is that the application should indicate progress as well as mastery. Specifically, answering what the student can do now compared to what they have done before is a big indicator of progress and self-efficacy.

Other options educators can include is a social connection: where learners demonstrate to others what they have learned and what they are capable of now. This can be combined with the application of their knowledge to a problem set where they demonstrate their mastery of more challenging applications throughout the class.

This can be through traditional applications like case studies and projects where students apply what they have learned in class to a practical application. For a gamified learning environment, you can theme these as “quests” that move the story down the narrative path.

Final takeaways

Gamifing your class doesn’t have to be a chore. Rather, we can work to scaffold students’ engagement in a narrative format and provide them opportunities to demonstrate their mastery. Socializing them to show their own mastery can go a long way to developing their own confidence and self-efficacy in their work.

Download a PDF print ready version of this blog post with APA reference list here.

Dave Eng, EdD
Managing Partner