Gamification in Extension Work
Gamification is one of the most confusing trends in elearning right now. Everyone wants it. It adds a certain amount of “fairy dust” to an e-learning experience.
What’s the real deal for Extension with gamification? How can elearning production be enhanced by getting a good understanding of gamification? What can we really do to help learners benefit from this really great movement in elearning?
Research points to what instructional designers need to pay attention to when justifying the time and budget needed to incorporate gamification as part of an overall design approach for an e-learning course.
Crummy content covered in gamification fairy dust is still crummy content.
The Instructional Design and pedagogical approach need to be solid.
The content needs to be really great. For the design and approach to be solid, be sure that:
- The learning outcomes are achievable with the content presented
- The way the content is presented will actually lead to learners achieving the outcomes
- A solid assessment plan will show that learners accomplished the outcomes
- The assessment is relevant – the more relevant to how the learner will actually use the content in a real life context, the better
- For heaven’s sake – no pictures from the 1970’s. No, really – we deal with this all the time. Nothing makes a course look outdated faster than yellowed pix of bell bottoms, short shorts on dudes, David Wooderson mustaches and power bangs. Get out there with your smartphone and get some new pictures, Extension!
“The goal of gamification cannot be to replace instruction, but instead to improve it.” Landers, 2015.
Separate instructional content and learning outcomes from game characteristics and learner behavior/attitude.
All of this is also separate from user interface (the look and feel):
- Content = raw information, images and documents that are molded into the module
- Learning Outcomes = what students will know, value and do by the end of the experience. Learning Outcomes tell you how to assess.
- Game Characteristics = points, badges, scenarios, branching “choose your own” experiences, progress meters, leader boards, adaptive assessments, immersiveness, and rules/goals associated with how the module is completed
- Learner Behaviors = time on task, cognitive effort, cognitive strategies, active participation, notetaking and reflection.
- Learner Attitudes = motivation, fun, engagement and effort.
“For gamification to be successful, the behavior or attitude that is targeted by gamification must itself influence learning.” Landers, 2015
For gamification to be successful as an Instructional Design strategy, the content has to be relevant, timely and meaningful to the context of the learner. This is part and parcel of Extension work – we pretty much have this in the bag.
If we can take that context, create a journey of learning that incorporates game characteristics like branching scenarios, realistic narratives, challenges, and progress meters – then we are getting somewhere with gamification. The bonus here would be letting the game outcomes become the assessment of the learning.
Finally, if we separate out the learner behaviors and attitudes, making it our goal to increase specific learner behaviors by learners participating in game elements, we’ll see higher achievement of learning outcomes. If we design the game elements to increase time on task, to diversify the cognitive tasks used, to promote reflection and other similar efforts, then the learning outcomes get a huge boost simply because these are learner behaviors that are proven to increase learning outcomes achievement. Increasing those behaviors increases learning outcomes.
The warning Landers gives is that the game elements must supplement the content – they cannot replace the content. If a fun experience is the goal, then there will be only fun – no learning. It might as well be MarioKart. If a motivating experience is the goal, then there will be motivation to complete, not necessarily learning. It might as well be a motivational speaker.
Content is still king. Instructional Design is still queen.
Get your content right, then get your instructional design right. Then and only then, consider what gamification elements might increase proven learner behaviors that increase learning outcomes achievement.
The instructional design is always first.
Incorporating game elements is always second.
Landers, R. N. (2014). Developing a theory of gamified learning: Linking serious games and gamification of learning. Simulation & Gaming 45 (6), 752-768.