Gamification in Education: The 5 Key Learning Principles Built Into Good Games

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Games are inherently inviting! They tend to drive players motivation and keep them focused for a prolonged period of time without them feeling bored. So what is it that makes games motivating?

In his book "What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy ",  James Paul Gee discusses the principles incorporated in game design which render games motivating and captivating. He argues that good video games (Gee mainly discusses video games but the principles relate to any good game for that matter) have a set of learning principles built into them which make them more engaging and motivating. 

Gee (2003) focuses on five basic learning principles which are:

"1. Active, Critical Learning Principle

All aspects of the learning environment (including the ways in which
the semiotic domain is designed and presented) are set up to encourage active and critical, not passive, learning.

2. Design Principle

Learning about and coming to appreciate design and design principles is core to the learning experience.

3. Semiotic Principle

Learning about and coming to appreciate interrelations within and across multiple sign systems (images, words, actions, symbols, artifacts, etc.) as a complex system is core to the learning experience.

4. Semiotic Domains Principle

Learning involves mastering, at some level, semiotic domains, and being able to participate, at some level, in the affinity group or groups connected to them.

5. Metalevel Thinking about Semiotic Domains Principle

Learning involves active and critical thinking about the relationships of the semiotic domain being learned to other semiotic domains." (pp. 49-50).

Throughout his book, Gee provides concrete examples of how these learning principles are incorporated into various video games (e.g., Pikmin). Gee emphasizes that for learning to be as engaging and motivating it needs to incorporate these learning principles.  Extrapolating games learning principles into non-game environments is at the core of gamification.

What is gamification?

Simply put, gamification is the application of game elements in non-game experiences. Game  elements are built into the texture of games and include things such as rewards, competition, challenges, achievements, problem-solving, suspense, storytelling, interactivity, rules, leaderboards, collaboration, emotion, feedback, among others. 

The more of these elements a game possesses the more engaging it is. For instance, games that include interactive features, have different levels of difficulty, engage players in various forms of competitions, provide rewards and feedback, these games tend to attract players and have wider popularity among the gaming community. 

There are several examples of educational games that incorporate these principles and that have indeed witnessed a huge success among students and learners from all around the world. These games include titles such as SimCity, Math Ninja, Dragon Box, Roblox, Prodigy, Wordscapes, and many more.

There are also a wide variety of web tools that help teachers gamify their instruction. For instance, tools such as Quizalize, Kahoot, Quizlet, Blooket, PlayPosit, Edpuzzle, to name a few, are all designed with the purpose of promoting learning and teaching through the principles of game-based learning.  They provide a student-friendly platform where learners create, compete, interact, share, and help each other unlock their learning potential while having fun. 

Gee's book cited above is a great read to help you learn more about the concept of gamification. You can also check this collection of books I curated specifically for teachers and educators keen on exploring the educational potential of gamification and its various applications in classroom learning and teaching.

Disclaimer: This post contains Amazon affiliate links.