In his online course on ethical decision-making, Greg Andres, a professor of philosophy at the University of Waterloo in Canada, asks students to compete for the top spot on the class leaderboard. When they answer questions about how they would react to various ethical dilemmas, they are awarded a number of points based on how Andres views their answers in a given context.
The goal is to “bring course concepts to life – this is how it actually happens in real life,” says Andres.
Andres’ class is an example of gamification, a term that generally refers to the implementation of different game design elements – such as competing or earning points or badges – in various contexts.
In recent years, gamification has become more prevalent in the corporate world and has spread to higher education, including online. According to experts, prospective online learners should consider the pros and cons of gamification when deciding if a program that uses this learning method is right for them.
Examples of gamification vary by program. For example, in an online undergraduate English composition course at the New England College of Business and Finance, students play Jeopardy! game as a grammar reminder. As part of the school’s online Bachelor of Science in Digital Marketing program, students compete in teams to create and design the best website for a nonprofit organization, as judged by a panel of teachers.
Widespread recognition of the use of gamification in various contexts began about five years ago, says Kevin Werbach, associate professor of legal studies and business ethics at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Co. -author of the book “For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business.”
“What we’re seeing is that many e-learning companies – including online degree-granting education, as well as more ad-hoc types of learning sites like Khan Academy – see gamification as valuable technique,” says Werbach. He cites Duolingo, a free and fun app for learning new languages, as another example of this pedagogical approach gaining ground in online education more recently.
Some professors now see gamification as a way to better engage online students, who typically won’t have the opportunity to interact face-to-face. Since online instructors often compete with social media and other websites for student attention, gamification can capture students’ interest while still being informative, Andres says.
“It’s kept me engaged,” says Bre Seavey, a 2015 graduate of the New England College of Business’s online master’s in human resources management program, which includes three fun courses. “I learned things from others that I wouldn’t have learned on my own. So my learning process was much richer.”
Gamification allows students to become more active learners by inserting themselves into different scenarios, rather than passively listening to lectures and reading course material themselves, says Andrea Eberly, instructional designer in e-learning at New England College of Business.
“They have to think critically about the situation themselves, and they become masters of their own learning as their engagement increases,” Eberly says of gamification. “That’s probably the biggest advantage.”
Through gamification in online learning, students can also learn to persevere in situations that may require multiple attempts — a trait companies value in job candidates, she says.
“It’s about teaching qualities like perseverance, creativity, and resilience, and that resilience in particular is something that employers are really looking for these days,” says Eberly.
In many cases, gamification provides students with instant feedback on why a particular answer is correct or incorrect – something online students can appreciate when juggling work or family obligations with an education. With gamification in general, students typically don’t have to wait for an instructor to grade an assignment to receive feedback, Eberly says.
“Technologies have evolved, and especially with social media as part of that, students want immediate likes, they want immediate recognition, they want immediate feedback,” says Kevin Bell, senior fellow at Northeastern University’s Lowell Institute. , who researched gamification.
But the gamification has to be done right for it to work, says Wharton’s Werbach. Some efforts to implement gamification in online courses become too focused on rewards, he says, and students care more about earning than learning.
For gamification to be taken seriously, hesitant students and faculty should view it not just as a game, but as a true form of education, says Paula Bramante, senior vice president for online learning at New England College of Business.
The other issue comes down to how much time gamification might take. A session may require multiple attempts to complete, for example, and therefore take a long time to complete.
“It’s easy to get lost in this, and an online student should always be aware of time management issues,” she says.