The term “gamification” refers to applying game-like elements in a non-game environment (Cheong, Filippou, & Cheong, 2014). Many different game elements can be incorporated into an educational environment. Cheong et al. (2014) detail categories of game elements with increasing levels of abstraction. The category with the least amount of abstraction is game components, such as avatars, levels, points, and badges. The next category is game mechanics, such as challenges, competition, and cooperation. The most abstract level is game dynamics, such as the narrative, emotions, and relationships (Cheong et al., 2014). As you implement more and more of these elements in a gamified environment, you’re crossing the line into actually developing a game, as opposed to just applying game elements in a non-game environment. I talk about full-blown educational games in another post. This post focuses on applying elements from the first category, such as avatars, levels, badges, and to a lesser extent, elements from the second category, such as challenges and competition in a learning environment.
Gamification in Education
I found a couple of examples of gamification in education. In the first one, a study by Frost, Matta, and MacIvor (2015), they retrofitted the Learning Management System (LMS) at a large Midwestern university in 2012. The gamified design of the LMS was the result of a competition by students in a class called Gamification of Education. The students created different designs and chose what they thought was the best one. The game elements that they implemented were a storyline, avatars, and a leaderboard. The objective for each weekly assignment was referred to as a “monster.” Students were ranked on the leaderboard according to their performance in the assignments. Students were also given Olympic colored medals corresponding to their score on each assignment. Furthermore, each student was given three “lives,” represented by hearts on the LMS, at the beginning of the semester. They could use each “life” to turn in an assignment up to 48 hours late with no consequences. If they didn’t use any of their “lives” during the semester, they received extra credit (Frost et al., 2015). This modification of the LMS qualifies as gamification because they applied game elements to the LMS, but the class assignments themselves were not games.
The researchers in this study did both a quantitative study, in which they measured the performance of students using the gamified LMS against that of students using the regular LMS, and a qualitative study in which they asked the participating students to give their impression of the gamified LMS. The open-ended responses from the students were overwhelmingly positive, with the students indicating that the gamified LMS gave them more feedback. However, the quantitative results showed no difference between the students who used the gamified LMS and the students who used the regular LMS (Frost et al, 2015). Their results show that you can’t improve a class simply be introducing gamification. Some students might perceive the class as more fun, but just adding game elements doesn’t help students learn better.
Contrast this example with the study done by Kingsley and Grabner-Hagen (2015). In this study, a middle school teacher in a Midwestern metropolitan school used 3D GameLab, which is essentially a gamified LMS, in a science class. Within 3D GameLab, “students earn XPs, badges, and awards competing against themselves to progress through hierarchical tasks” (Kingsley & Gabner-Hagen, 2015, p. 54). According to my 14-year-old daughter, XPs are experience points that you accumulate in order to “level-up.” The teacher turned the course curriculum into “quest chains,” which is a standard approach in 3D GameLab. Each quest in the quest chain was a different assignment and each had a certain number of XPs assigned to it. The students didn’t have to do all of the assignments in a quest chain, but could pick the ones they were most interested in. But they had to do enough quests to earn the XPs to level up. As they moved through different levels they earned badges. Because this was a science class, the badges were named to correspond to different states of matter. For example, the students started out as solids, with the goal of eventually achieving sublimation. The tests were referred to as “bosses,” with the final test being the “final boss” (Kingsley & Grabner-Hagen, 2015). I’ve heard my kids talk about video games enough to have heard a lot about trying to beat the “final boss” at the end of a game.
Unfortunately there was no control group in the Kingsley and Grabner-Hagen (2015) study to determine whether the students who used the gamified course learned more than students in a regular course. The only feedback in this study came from the students. The students overwhelmingly indicated that they looked forward to attending this class on the days that they used 3D GameLab. They also indicated that they felt that 3D GameLab made learning easier, that their work was of a higher quality than it would be otherwise, and that the subject matter was easier to learn that it would have been otherwise (Kingsley & Grabner-Hagen, 2015). Of course this is subjective feedback from middle-schoolers. It’s apparent that they really enjoyed using 3D GameLab, and perhaps this made them more motivated, which may have helped them learn more. We just have no objective evidence that 3D GameLab improved their learning.
So why the difference in these two experiences? A few things come to mind. One is that the students in the Kingsley and Grabner-Hagen (2015) study were younger than the students in the Frost et al. (2015) study, so they might have been more drawn in by the game atmosphere on account of their age. Another issue was brought up by Frost et al. (2015), who commented they might have gotten better results with a natively gamified LMS as opposed to their retrofitted one. 3D GameLab certainly qualifies as a natively gamified LMS. The final issue that I believe contributed the success of the Kingley and Grabner-Hagen (2015) study is that it gave students the ability to choose which of the available assignments they wanted to do. One of the students in the class commented that this was better than having to do all the assignments as he had to do in his other classes (Kingsley & Grabner-Hagen, 2015). The choice of assignments (or quests) introduced an element of autonomy. The researchers in Frost et al. (2015) talked at length about the importance of autonomy as a key to helping students to feel engaged. Their attempt at introducing autonomy hinged on their use of the three “lives” that the students could use to turn in assignments late. This is a much smaller attempt at granting autonomy to the students than the choice of assignments in Kingsley and Grabner-Hagen (2015). Given these differences between the two studies, I believe that we can conclude that giving students more autonomy, results in a better experience for students.
Gamification in the Corporate World
I could not find any examples of gamifying an LMS in the corporate world. The articles I read about using gamification in corporate training talked mostly about using simulations. Depending on the nature of the simulation, a simulation could fall on either side of the fuzzy imaginary line between gamification and an all-out game. Furthermore, working adults might not be as interested in video games and their associated elements being applied to learning as young students are. I’m taking a class at work that awards badges for completion of a course and I couldn’t care less about the badges. I believe that adults prefer being trained with practical knowledge in realistic situations that they might encounter. For example, Weinstein (2016) indicates that medical personal who used simulations in training appreciated the interaction and realism that the simulation provided. Adults like to have fun just like kids do, but you need to make sure that the approach you take to education or training is appropriate for the individuals you’re teaching.
Implementing Gamification using 3D GameLab
3D GameLab is now called Rezzly, but still carries the 3D GameLab logo. It is free to students. You can try it out as a student using a code they provide on their website, but in a real class environment, the teacher would send an email to the students inviting them to enroll. You can try it from the educator or teacher perspective free for two weeks. You have to give a credit card number during enrollment and you’ll get charged if you don’t cancel before the two weeks are up. The educator price is $9.95 per month if you pay for a whole year at the beginning. The price goes up a little if you pay quarterly or monthly. I’ll go through both types (student and educator) of enrollment.
Enrolling in 3D GameLab as a Student
- Go to http://rezzly.com/ and scroll down to the bottom of the page.
- Copy the course code to your clipboard and then click the link.
- Select the Student option and click the Continue to register button.
- Complete the fields as required and click the Sign up button.
- A message at the top of the page indicates that a confirmation email has been sent to you. Go to your email and find the email message. Presumably you would get an email with a link to confirm your email. However, I did not receive an email.
- You are logged in to 3D GameLab and your first quest is available. Click on this quest.
- You have the options to start the quest or view details about the quest. I clicked the Start Quest button.
- This quest contains videos that tell you about 3D GameLab and a small assignment.
- When you’re done with the quest, click the Complete button.
- Specify the time it took you to complete the quest, a rating, comments, and click the Submit button.
- Now a new quest called “Blow Up the Grade Book!” is available. If I take this quest, I’ll learn more about 3D GameLab and receive more XP (you can see that I got 15 XP from the first quest).
Enrolling in 3D GameLab as a Teacher
- Go to http://rezzly.com/ and scroll down to the bottom of the page.
- Click the View Plans and Pricing
- Scroll down to the bottom of the page. You have to choose a payment plan. I’m going to click on the monthly plan even though it costs more per month because I’m just trying it out at this point and don’t want to pay for a whole year or even a whole quarter if I fail to cancel my subscription in time. Click the button for the payment plan you want.
- This time the Educator plan is selected and the 2 week free trial period is noted. Be sure to select the billing plan that you want. It defaults to one year even if you clicked one of the other plans on the previous page. Click the Continue to register
- Complete the fields and click the Sign up
- Enter your credit card information. Note that you will not be billed until the end of the 2-week trial period. Click the Subscribe
- Click the On to the Academy!
- You have a quest to get you started with learning how to use 3D GameLab as an educator.
- After you finish the first quest, more quests become available to you. As you complete quests, you earn badges. You have to earn four badges in order to unlock the teacher dashboard, which will enable you to create your own quests and invite students to participate. Here is a description of the four badges that you have to earn:
Learn More about 3D GameLab
The best way to learn about 3D GameLab is to log on and try it yourself. The introductory quests are designed to teach you how to use the system.
The Rezzly website also gives an introduction to 3D GameLab. See http://rezzly.com/personalized-quest-based-learning/.
If you want to pay, you can attend a Teacher Camp. Sign up at http://rezzly.com/calendar-2/
Common Sense Education has a page where you can view teacher reviews in which teachers tell how they’ve used 3D GameLab. See https://www.commonsense.org/education/website/3d-game-lab.
Cheong, C., Filippou, J., & Cheong, F. (2014). Towards the gamification of learning: Investigating student perceptions of game elements. Journal of Information Systems Education, 25(3), 233-244.
Frost, R. D., Matta, V., & MacIvor, E. (2015). Assessing the efficacy of incorporating game dynamics in a learning management system. Journal of Information Systems Education, 26(1), 59-70.
Kingsley, T. L., & Grabner-Hagen, M. M. (2015). Gamification: Questing to integrate content knowledge, literacy, and 21st-century learning. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 59(1), 51-61.
Weinstein, M. (2016). Are you game for learning?. Training, 53(5), 44-47.