“Gamification is the process of using game thinking and game mechanics to engage audiences and solve problems” Gabe Zichermann[i]
Teaching is a command and control mechanism. It is one way communication and lacks dialogue. It pits one person against the other and sets targets for achievement. It sets the agenda for what is to be learnt and how to learn it. It makes some effort at compromise by acknowledging what is termed “learning styles” or “multiple intelligences” but retains control of the learning. Any learning outside of teaching is considered to be a waste of time, a distraction and of little use. When things are not going its way, a report that school leavers are unfit for the world they live and work in, then there is a call for “back to basics” on order to reinforce the order and control of learning. Rewards are held back and only presented to those who succeed in mastering the curriculum that is set. Conformity is the key that unlocks potential not challenge. Learning in this environment is seen as “work” and is carried over to “home work” to create more work time.
Games (not just computer based ones) are fun, they challenge, they entertain, they engage, and they reward not only major achievements but small incremental ones too. They focus on what has been achieved and promote collaboration and communication. They support risk and create an environment over which the player has some control. Learning to play a game is seen as fun and time, effort and energy is found to play.
So which would you rather spend your time doing?
There is no doubt there are things we need to learn but I ask myself is teaching as we know it the best way to learn them? Can we take something from games and add it to teaching in order to make learning less like work and more like play?
Games and game playing has evolved at a much faster pace than teaching of that there is no question. Computer games have opened up a whole new way to learn, to communicate, seek and overcome challenges, gain recognition, and reward and be part of a community. I am left wondering what if teaching had evolved at the same rate as games have done as a result of the introduction of computers. There is no doubt schools have become equipped with computers in many forms but for some reason the actual practice of teaching has not seen the same rate of development as computer games. This is strange because we can now see computer game thinking influences in the products we buy and the world we live in. It seems like every industry has in some way gained from taking the principles of gaming and applying them to their product or service in some way. From the Tamagotchi care principles, in the displays of hybrid cars, to the control of our energy usage in digital monitors. As far as the printed word itself leaving the physical page and appearing digitally and even in the development of social media computer gaming has made a difference. So why has teaching not changed at the same pace, why is it being left behind?
Gabe asks “Do kids these days have short attention spans, or does the world just move too slow?” It’s an interesting question because it turns the penny over and looks at the other side. It may be the world of teaching is moving too slow and the reason why many learners are not engaged and struggle is that it is moving too slow.
What is it games tap into then that could be of use to teaching and how can computers help?
Let us consider looking at learning as a problem solving exercise and the teacher as the one who sets the puzzle or challenge. Instantly we have a game based approach to learning that provides for all the benefits of gaming. There is no significant change in the systems that support teaching but the relationship between the teacher and learner has changed. There are still rules, codes of behaviour, things to learn but there are also opportunities for much, much more. We can arrange for learners to work collaboratively in solving problems and we can reward small increments and not just penalise for not achieving some target or level. Of course planning is different and the role of the teacher needs to take on the concept of guide as well as a more “mindful”[ii] approach to learning. Perhaps “gamification” of learning rather than of teaching is the way to make greater progress in education.