Learn Like a Gamer

by Dr. Crusher Wong (OCIO)
Imagine that you had burnt the midnight oil to prepare for teaching of a new course. You had planned a myriad of learning activities including group projects with insightful topics. The first class came but students were just passively jotting notes. You tried to encourage them by asking a few critical questions and what you received was the sound of silence. Time flew; some fragmented project presentations demonstrated mysterious labor division among students. After the exam, you believed more effort should be put to help students bridge the gap between concepts and applications next semester.
While you were pondering how to enhance the course, your kid was playing an online game and discussing strategies to confront villains with her peers. That was probably the best SWOT analysis you heard from teenagers. Multinational players were self-motivated to hunt hints from internet forums and share their skills and experience selflessly. They challenged the invincible bosses relentlessly and couldn’t wait to accept another conundrum.
What can educators learn from this scenario? Make learning desirable for students just like games - welcome to Gamification of Learning!
The gamification of learning is a pedagogical approach that incorporates game design and gaming elements to motivate students for their engagement in learning activities (Kapp, 20123). The attention of the learners is captured because they enjoy the process and outcomes in the context of gaming – the stimulation in participating and the reward after achieving. Such enjoyment can make learning even ‘addictive’ and further develops students into life-long learners (Huang & Soman, 20141). The elements of competition and cooperation in gaming will be able to cultivate students for the 21st century workplace where effective and eloquent team work is expected.
It was reported that, up to 2011, 50 million human hours, which is nearly 5.93 million years, had been spent in World of Warcraft, one of the most popular massively multiplayer online games (MMOG) launched in 2004 (Mcgonigal, 20114). In a typical MMOG, players respond to their calls of duty to accomplish their missions. They are self-motivated to research solutions to problems and make trillions of attempts before completing tasks. Players from diverse backgrounds have an eagle eye on their roles and contribution in a team. Perhaps, games can bring some gems to enhance teaching and learning.
Recently, Gamification has won widespread popularity from online distance learning platforms to enhance learners’ retaining rate. CodinGame (https://www.codingame.com/start), an online computer programming teaching platform, demonstrates well how dull programming courses can be transformed into full-fledged interactive games with fancy user interface and instant rewards. Furthermore, newbie programmers are neither learning alone anymore while they can initiate a challenge to other learners. There has been a growing hard evidence of the effectiveness of gamification and educators can borrow experiences from successful game elements and game-design techniques.
To benefit from the pedagogical value behind gamification, City University of Hong Kong (CityU) has collaborated with Hong Kong Baptist University, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the chief international collaborating institution, Curtin University in Australia, to carry out a project – “Developing Multidisciplinary and Multicultural Competences through Gamification and Challenge-Based Collaborative Learning”. The objectives of the project are to improve student learning and performance by: (1) better preparing them to work in multidisciplinary and multicultural teams; and (2) motivating them through the deployment of gamification and challenge-based learning via incorporating gaming elements into online learning systems, and building up a repository of collaborative tasks in order to handle real-life complex issues.
Game-embedded collaborative tasks will be developed for students to generate solutions to pertinent real-world challenges, such as global warming, air and water pollution, financial crises and natural disaster. As a result, challenge based learning will be conducted in a gamification environment (Suh, Wagner, & Liu, 20166) where participants will be rewarded for specific behaviors and outcomes along the problem solving exercise. Throughout these learning activities, students will receive ongoing feedback to gauge their progress so as to maintain their engagement level. It is expected 2,000 students across the partnering institutions will participate throughout the two-year project duration. Students will be assigned to form teams with learners outside Hong Kong, or at least from different subject disciplines to foster multicultural and multidiscipline problem-solving team building.
In CityU, the Office of Chief Information Officer (OCIO) will oversee this pilot project. During the preliminary stage, the e-Learning team has been exploring available technologies or services in the market to aid the implementation of gaming elements. In the near future, teaching staff will be able to issue and manage badges, which are digital credentials to recognize, validate and demonstrate learning and target behaviors, via CityU Canvas. Such instant feedback in terms of badges, as well as points and level on a leaderboard is expected to provide incentive to maintain learners’ engagement level and thus learn more. Besides, the OCIO is calling for educators to jointly develop gamification pedagogy. Hence, we would like to invite you and other educators to explore this highly promising development in e-Learning with us. Please contact the e-Learning Team directly (elearn@cityu.edu.hk or 3442-6727) if you are interested in joining the pilot or sharing your insights on gamification of learning.
  1. Huang, W. H.-Y., & Soman, D. (2014). A Practitioner’s Guide To Gamification Of Education. Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto.
  2. Johnson, L., Smith, R., Smythe, J., & Varon, R. (2009). Challenge-based learning: An approach for our time. The New Media Consortium. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=ED505102&site=ehost-live
  3. Kapp, K. M. (2012). The Gamification of Learning and Instruction: Game-based Methods and Strategies for Training and Education. Pfeiffer.
  4. Mcgonigal, J. (2011, 1 22). Be a Gamer, Save the World. The Wall Street Journal, 3. Retrieved from https://janemcgonigal.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/the-benefits-of-videogames-wsj-com.pdf
  5. Suh, A., Wagner, C., & Liu, L. (2015). The Effects of Game Dynamics on User Engagement in Gamified Systems. System Sciences (HICSS) (pp. 672-681). 2015 48th Hawaii International Conference: IEEE.
  6. Suh, A., Wagner, C., & Liu, L. (2016). Enhancing User Engagement through Gamification. Journal of Computer Information Systems, 1-10.