Gamification – ‘Every Day is a School Day’

One of the recurring themes when talking about online learning is “gamification” – the concept of learning being packaged as a game.  Frankly, the term has always made my blood run cold, and although I believe that learning can and should be fun, I don’t feel that it should extend to turning the whole process in to a game. 

When I started writing this article, I was ready to sound a note of caution and discount gamification as a passing “fad” that comes in and out of fashion over time.  As I thought more about it though, and took a step back and looked more carefully at the Development Zone, it was quite a surprise to me to realise just how much gamification had slowly crept in to the platform and the content within it, and how successfully it was working.  Here are some of the examples that I found.

The DevZone Academy was launched as part of the updates in August and incorporates the concept of DevZone points to reward learners for successfully completing topics and learning more about the platform and its capabilities.  As learners complete more topics, so their points accrue, and they progress through the various “levels” of learner, as displayed in their profile cards on-screen.  I wonder how many of your colleagues have progressed to become “experts” in the platform?

Open Badges have been part of the core of the Development Zone for several years, and have gradually been incorporated in custom content by firms that use the platform, who now issue custom badges to celebrate achievement in specific activities (or groups of activities).  In much the same way as completing challenges in a “traditional” computer game will unlock rewards, so completing learning activities on the Development Zone unlocks badges, with the Achievement Wall providing a virtual trophy cabinet in which to view your own achievements or indeed share them with others.  As badges have a lifetime (normally of one year), there is an added element of challenge for learners to refresh their knowledge regularly in order to retain their collection of badges.

Some firms that use the platform have even taken the concept of gamification further in their own learning and used custom content tools to develop or incorporate their own learning “games”.  Using the range of tools available in the Custom Modules, these can range from simple drag and drop exercises, or hidden object (“hotspot”) exercises right through to more complex interactive videos.  The core content on the platform has also developed in new ways to provide a different type of learning experience, for example, through the range of scenario style modules that place the learner in real situations to explore key learning points.

As a result, I suppose it’s fair to say that my opinion of gamification has mellowed slightly.  I still don’t feel that it should be the major purpose or feature of a training programme (or training platform).  However, like many “treats”, if used in a balanced way, it can form a valuable additional tool in helping to engage learners with often tricky and complex topics.

Years ago, I remember a poster put up in the school staffroom by an enthusiastic headteacher.  In large print it simply said “You are the lead learner in your classroom”.  This simple reminder was there to ensure that every teacher, no matter how vast or slim their experience, remembered that we are always learning new things – often simply by looking at what we already know in a different way.  Trainers and professional development champions are no different, but over time it is easy to become complacent.

If you haven’t already done so, I’d encourage you to break out of your natural comfort zone and challenge your understanding of something on the Development Zone.  Why not try some of our scenarios and find out how you would react to real situations that you might not have encountered yet in your own experience?  Or, for those of you who’ve been using the Development Zone for a while or have a lead training role, why not attempt some of the topics in the DevZone Academy to challenge your understanding of the platform and the tools available to you?

About the author

After gaining a degree in Computer Science, Tim spent nine years teaching in a number of secondary schools (11-19 year olds) in Wales.  For the majority of his time teaching, Tim led a highly successful team of teachers delivering vocational ICT qualifications and reached the level of Associate Assistant Headteacher before leaving teaching.  He has also been a senior examiner and moderator for one of the UK's largest awarding bodies.  Since 2013 he has been the senior developer for the Development Zone.

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