I spent my teenage years waiting for a letter that never came—an owl-delivered offer of admission from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. At the muggle elementary school I attended, we brewed no potions and flew no brooms. We studied basic arithmetic and practiced forming cursive letters in longhand. We learned serious subjects from serious textbooks. I thought that the Hogwarts curriculum, by comparison, offered a much more compelling academic experience.
And the reason for this can be summarized in a single word: play. Albert Einstein said, “Having fun is the best way to learn.” I invite readers to reflect upon their own personal academic experiences: what moments were the most memorable? If your answer has something to do with photosynthesis or BEDMAS, then perhaps this article will not resonate with you. (Remember, too, that if you should disagree, you are not disagreeing with me, you are disagreeing with Albert Einstein.) But, if your most memorable learning moments include a particular instructor who disseminated material in creative and engaging ways, then you’ll most certainly be interested in the concept of Gamification.
Though the two concepts intersect, a distinction should be made between gamification and game-based learning. “[They] are similar in that both strategies promote engagement and sustained motivation in learning. … gamification applies game elements or a game framework to existing learning activities; game-based learning designs learning activities that are intrinsically game-like.” (Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo).
If we think of activities (as per the Cambridge Dictionary definition) as learning activities, then we can think of the online learning environment as a suitable host for game-based learning. But the gamification of learning material is an exercise that requires a sound understanding of pedagogical theory, combined with strategically deployed game design. The adoption of gamified education has received some criticism. In an article published by eLearn magazine, Canadian instructional designer Guy Boulet described gamification as “the latest buzzword and the next fad.” Boulet contended that even though “… some learning materials can benefit from elements of game mechanics, it does not mean that game mechanics has the potential to improve all learning materials.” In 2012, Boulet predicted that gamification could receive significant short-term attention and interest but that it would quickly be forgotten and replaced by the next pedagogical theory buzzword.
Almost a decade later, European educational psychologists Michael Sailer and Lisa Homner sought to dispel the skepticism of Boulet and his contemporaries. In their 2020 publication, they presented a synthesis of systematic research on the effects of gamification on learning outcomes. Sailer and Homner’s meta-analysis concluded that “yes … gamification of learning works because [they] found significant, positive effects of gamification on cognitive, motivational, and behavioural learning outcomes.” However, Sailer and Homner maintained that more research was required to determine which factors most contributed to successful gamification.
Game Creator’s Odyssey
In 2019, KnowledgeOne and Ubisoft collaborated to develop Game Creator’s Odyssey. The program is,
“… divided into chapters and missions, each one with their distinct challenges. Completing these will give students experience points, allowing them to unlock exclusive content and level up in the Leaderboard. At the same time, progressing through the course will reveal different parts of a fantasy story, which will set up the stage for the whole course universe.”
The program was developed under the leadership of Olivier Palmieri, Game Director at Ubisoft Montreal and award-winning game designer whose name is attached to AAA projects such as Ghost Recon, Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, etc. Game Creator’s Odyssey uses gamification to deliver material in engaging and interactive ways while providing opportunities for learners to develop their aptitudes through practice and prototyping.
One reason why gamification might be the object of criticism is because it transforms otherwise ordinary learning into something that is … well, fun! And fun is not an adjective typically associated with “serious” and “traditional” learning. But, why not? In a previously published article (see The importance of emotions in learning), it was demonstrated that emotions are inevitably associated with meaningful learning: “Self-confidence and attributing value to the tasks one performs are two things that the learner benefits from cultivating. In fact, they are essential for the manifestation of all the positive emotions associated with learning and for preventing or reducing the rise of negative emotions.” We can think of gamification as something—the mechanism—that (1) promotes self-confidence and (2) carries inherent value for the learner; it contributes not only to the acquisition of knowledge but also to their emotional development. And what’s more, it achieves these things through a fun, stimulating medium.
When I think of Hogwarts, I don’t remember bells and recesses. What I remember are students mixing ingredients and provoking explosive chemical reactions. Of course, I am not suggesting a revision of the curriculum in favour of pyrotechnics, but I do think that if a global pandemic had affected the wizarding world, Hogwarts would’ve come up with a remote learning strategy that invites students to engage with the material in a fun, creative ways. State-of-the-art gamification is not superficial, and it can certainly be serious—seriously serious and seriously fun!