Gamification works: Why fight tradition?

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In this discussion regarding the gamification of learning, I maintain the perspective of an adjunct instructor at a higher education institution. Given my previous experience with training in both public and private sector businesses of various sizes, I feel this has applicability for all adult education.

A fusion of proven, interdisciplinary motivational theories and pedagogies proved to engage the participant when introduced in an aesthetically pleasing, interactive environment that used the basic principles of behaviorism to reinforce desired behavior and punish errors. Perhaps coincidental, the resulting permutation that engaged participants was called a game. The entertainment value of a game kept the user’s attention, while covertly resulting in education. This passive, but effective, method of teaching was recognized and a crusade for gamification- introducing the elements of a game- of education has developed in recent years.

One of the essential elements in gamification is the need for game thinking. Kapp (2012) cites this as “synthesis of storytelling, competition, cooperation, and exploration”. Taken individually, these are not recent discoveries- even in educational application. The use of story predates the literate period and we have now come full circle to a second orality using digital storytelling. The same historical recognition can be made with regard to competition and cooperation, which may be the epistemological equivalent of Darwinism for evolution. The use of grading using a quantitative scale and a “curve” is supportive of this. As for exploration, many theories have long-existed in attempt to define the why behind an obvious human trait: curiosity.

In an online presentation available on the UCIrvine Extension, Dr. Jiminez’s list comparison of game mechanics and dynamics to learning design is sensible. However, we can again identify most component parts as having previous application within the educational realm. Basic behaviorist principles explain the reward system. The human desire for status, achievement, and self-expression was explained by Abraham Maslow long ago in a neatly organized hierarchy. I have already explained the correlation to competition. I did find the mention of altruism as a component of collaborative learning to be somewhat illuminating. Ironically, though, the presentation did not seem to be constructed in a fashion that included this dimension. Dr. Jiminez did create some reward, status, and achievement though his feedback. While students were allowed some self-expression opportunity, I felt that competition and altruism was limited amongst peers. If time was alotted for peer-to-peer discussion, this presentation could have been more closely aligned to the recommended learning design. This may highlight the importance of choosing enabling, flexible technology.

I like to use both online and classroom peer discussion to generate competitive reflection. In either setting, students provide feedback to correct, clarify, or supplement peer responses. Such assistance may be viewed as altruism, though I do not agree that helping peers learn is a completely selfless act. Instead, it reinforces one’s own knowledge and allows them to practice higher order thinking skills. With regard to psychomotor skills, one’s ability to explain actions during performance indicates that a level of naturalization has been achieved.

While I strongly support gamification of education, the individual components have been integrated into engaging classrooms long before the phrase was recognized. The analogy is apt because games are likely the first effectively integrated source of multiple appealing elements. Accordingly, gamification is not only beneficial, but compulsory for providing the best education possible. Gamification is simply a synthesis of proven science and logical theories, masked by entertainment and aesthetic awe.


Kapp, K.M. (2012). The gamification of learning and instruction: Game-based methods and strategies for training and education. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer

Jiminez, R. E. (n.d.). E-learning interactivity: Adding “gamification” to motivate learners. Retrieved from


Nicholas S. Favazzo, 2013

Nicholas S. Favazzo is a graduate student completing his second year of the Educational Technology MA program at Florida Gulf Coast University. In addition to serving as a paramedic, he is an adjunct instructor for the EMS Program at Edison State College in Fort Myers, FL.


If this has influenced your view of gamification of education, please respond in the comments and share. Thanks for reading!


One response to “Gamification works: Why fight tradition?

  1. Pingback: News Gamification ← Meandering Margaux·

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