Is Gamification Over-hyped?

game-iconRemember when the iPhone was first coming to market? From television, to radio, to print ads… everywhere you looked there was some kind of talk or buzz happening around the Apple’s “greatest invention yet”. It was excitement on many levels. The sexiness of Apple products, the first time the internet was brought to a touch screen devise, all with the ability to make phone calls and text. Revolutionary right?

So what happened? The iPhone released and lived up to the hype… for a while.

What seemingly took years upon years to make possible, all of a sudden was receiving an upgrade no less that six months after the initial release. Another price tag, a couple more features, and a crappy phone bill. Since switching phone coverage in the U.S. is damn near impossible without paying an arm and a leg, people were kind of stuck (Note: this same pattern can be applied to the iPad as well).

The point here isn’t that Apple is in the wrong, actually, this post has nothing to do with Apple, the iPhone, iPad or i-anything. The point is that humans inherently over-hype “stuff”. Only upon further investigation, as time passes, do we see that the “greatest thing ever” turns out to be just “okay”, with ultimately many points of improvement (I’m pretty sure that the number of “butt dials” increased ten-fold after the iPhone released… and there are countless more stories of auto-correct failures).

The same is true with gamification in education.

On the surface, gamification looks like the greatest thing ever. What better way to solidify learning than through the engagement of a game-like environment, right? However, upon further investigation, we see that while there are certainly benefits, gamification is not the be-all, end-all. For instance, gamification often ignore the elements like storytelling and experience, as well as uses a basic reward systems, which has the tendency to degenerate the entire experience to a simple lesson of operant conditioning.

While there are benefits to using educational games, the hype around this type of learning is just that – hype. As with anything, the use of games within learning should be used in moderation, and with specific intent. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. My advice to anyone looking into using gamification is to first evaluate the reason behind using it. Is it because it’s the “cool” thing to do, or is there a real value added reason to its inclusion? Understanding your true reasons for implementing some form of educational gaming will go a long way in making it a positive experience for the learner rather than a distraction, and potentially counter-productive aid.

Should we incorporate gamification in education? Absolutely. Yet, just as the iPhone is not perfect in all ways, neither is gamification – no matter what the hype tells us.

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About the Author:

Justin Ferriman is the co-founder and CEO of LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by the world's leading organizations, such as the University of Michigan, Digital Marketer, WPEngine, and Infusionsoft. Justin has made a career as an elearning consultant where he has implemented large-scale training programs for Fortune 500 companies. Twitter | LinkedIn

3 Comments
  1. Ken

    Hi Justin
    I really like your advise and completely agree with it. I am currently exploring the possibilities of points, ranks, rewards and achievements with my students.

    With this system the participation rate has done through the roof but I am also very conscious of its purpose and that for me is to collect data on how well my students understand my subject and how best to help them further.

    I think for the first time we teachers have got a great opportunity to truly engage with our students and cut down on our work load. Done well I think this is going to be a fantastic opportunity.

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