Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Gamification in Education

Part 3 of a Blog Series
  1. Gamification of Life.
  2. Behavioural Economics and Education.
  3. Gamification in Education.
  4. Gamification and Behavioural Change.

Building on a previous blog (Behavioural Economics and Education) that considered education from a behavioural economic view point, this blog looks at gamification design in order to shift behaviours. The argument is focused around B J Fogg’s behavioural model.

Games based learning can have a direct impact on performance in terms of subject understanding. I have seen this directly with games-ED products and I have blogged about the “proof of pudding” on a couple of occasions – Proof of the Pudding and Proof of the Pudding Part 2.

In addition, by providing virtual worlds, games based learning such as simulations improve personal, learning and thinking skills and can also be used to tackle specific behaviours.  So how do we design games and game-like interventions to modify behaviours? And what behaviours do we want to change?

Gamification Design and B J Fogg’s Behaviour Model
If we want to achieve behavioural change then we need to design accordingly. B J Fogg’s Behaviour Model provides a method of understanding how we can change behaviour and specifically how we can design to increase the chance of achieving a likely outcome. The model states that an individual needs to be motivated, have ability and be triggered into action.

The following section considers the three aspects (motivation, ability and triggers) in turn and highlights the design impacts for gamification in education.

Fogg’s model puts forward three core motivators (sensation, anticipation and social cohesion) each with two sides.
  • Sensation: pleasure/pain
  • Games and gamification offer a huge potential to make learning fun and effect behavioural change without the preaching.
  • They can be used as a replacement for an existing curriculum activity or they can be used to encourage activity. In the latter the game acts as treat.
  • Anticipation: hope/fear 
  • Game’s competitive elements encourage the players (learners) to get to the end of the activity. This desire to win is probably more crucial than the fun element. In a game, players (learners) will endure frustration and challenges that in other situations would cause them to give up. This is incredibly important as behavioural change is typically something that will need to be worked at.
  • Social Cohesion: acceptance/rejection
  • Different types of games allow different students to succeed. A few years back I took a class in school, the young lad who got the highest score got an amazing reaction from his classmates. The teacher told me later that she had never seen him really engaged before and he certainly hadn’t succeeded at anything.
  • At games-ED, our games are simulations of real world situations and are collaborative in nature.  Groups build their understanding of the game, the wider world and each other.

Ability (Simplicity)
As Fogg states, there are two paths to increasing ability. You can train people, giving them more skills (more ability) or you make the task simpler. Simplicity is the least risky option and is thus the most effective way to change behaviours.

Fogg outlines 6 Factors affecting simplicity: Time; Money; Physical effort; Brain Cycles (mental effort); Social Deviance (going against the norm); and Non-Routine (breaking habits). And he notes that simplicity is a function of your scarcest resource at that moment.

Questions for designers:
  • Time: How much time have teachers got to learn products and what slack is there in the existing curriculum?
  • Money: How much do the games costs including hidden costs such as potentially buying kit?
  • Physical effort: Will the games based learning session require decamping to the IT suite?
  • Brain Cycles: Can teachers and students justify the mental effort required?  
  • Social Deviance: games based learning is currently in its early adopter phase. By nature early adopters don’t mind going against the norm (indeed they get a kick out of being the first). But, to be successful games based learning needs to recruit the majority. How can gamification in education be more widely marketed?
  • Non-Routine: Isn’t it just easier for teachers to do what they have always done?

I have covered the answers to many of these questions in a previous blog (Six Key Principles of Games Based Learning), so I won’t repeat them here. But what is worth noting is the seeming contradiction between the need for simplicity AND complexity. Specifically, complexity generates a richness to the gaming experience and provides engagement and challenge yet simplicity is key to usage in the classroom.  As a designer, I have squared this circle by ensuring that the rules and interface are simple. As such, the game is quick to get into but the model and gameplay strategies are designed to be complex enough to engage and challenge within educational timeframes (hours not months). Developers, who simply reuse entertainment games, beware.

Without a Trigger, the target behaviour will not happen. By trigger, Fogg means: cue, prompt, call to action, request, and so on.

He states there are three types of triggers (facilitator, spark and signal) which can be judged in terms of both motivation and ability requirements:

  • Facilitator (high motivation and low ability) such as trainer / walkthrough.
  • Within the context of education the teacher has typically been responsible for triggering activity and behavioural change. Gamification can become another tool.
  • Spark (high motivation and high ability) such as inspiration from a friend.
  • Using devices such as league tables and ideas from social networking, it could be possible to inspire learners into activity and ultimately behavioural change.
  • Signal (low motivation and high ability) – an instruction to act.
  • Providing the gamification intervention has been well designed (it is simple), then it might be possible to make actions autonomous. This maybe a medium term goal.

In reality, a combination of all three triggers is likely to be required, dependent on the complexity of the intervention and the magnitude of the behavioural change.

And the story continues…
My next blog (Gamification and Behavioural Change) considers some ideas for nudging students (and teachers).


Further Reading
New Economics Foundation – Behavioural Economics
Dan Ariely (2008), Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions,
Dan Ariely (2010), The Upside of Irrationality
B J Fogg, Behaviour Model
Jack Schofield, PC-PRO (2011) - The Gamification of Life
Richard H. Thaler and Sendhil Mullainathan, Library of Economics and Liberty, Behavioural Economics
Richard H Thaler and Cass R Sunstein (2008),  Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness

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  2. In most cases student are children. It doen't matter how old they are, they all like playing. And in such cases games based learning can impact their performance positively and can bring positive results in terms of subject understanding. Sometimes in order to write my essay I used to play a game called 'Linguist' which helped me to generate new ideas for the essay. Generally, I like your article. Thank you for it!