Benefits of Gamification

Technology is impacting what, where, when and how we learn. Easy access to videos, electronic and interactive games, laptop, tablets and cell phones plays an important role in formal and informal learning. The use of gaming for learning and assessment has increased in recent years and research is starting to investigate its benefits and potential drawbacks. Claims have been made that digital games can “teach and reinforce skills important for future jobs such as collaboration, problem-solving, and communication” (Larson McClarty, Orr, Frey, Dolan, Vassileva, McVay, 2012, p. 4). According to the Federation of American Scientists, the Entertainment Software Association and the National Science Foundation, employers are seeking “many of the skills required for success in games such as thinking, planning, learning, and technical skills”” (Larson McClarty, K., Orr, A., Frey, P. M., Dolan, R. P., Vassileva, V., McVay, 2012, p. 4). Given the apparent importance of gaming in learning, this section of the review provides a brief definition of games and analyzes research evidence on the use of digital games in learning.

Games are usually described using some typical key words such as “enjoyment, fun, rules, systems, challenge, goals, interaction” and are usually opposite to “work”. Salem and Zimmerman (2004) define games as a “system in which players engage in artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome” (p. 80) in (Larson McClarty, K., Orr, A., Frey, P. M., Dolan, R. P., Vassileva, V., McVay, 2012, p. 5). According to Larson McClarty & al. (2012) digital games can be described in the same terms with the added technology dimension. These authors examined the empirical evidence behind five claims that have been made regarding the benefits of digital games for learning:

  1. Games are built on sound learning principles;
  2. Games provide personalized learning opportunities;
  3. Games provide more engagement for the learner;
  4. Games teach 21st century skills; and
  5. Games provide an environment for authentic and relevant assessment” (Larson McClarty & al., 2012, p.7).

Their findings indicated that most studies were based on data gathered from students’ and teachers’ surveys and that results “consist of descriptive analysis of the impact games have on students’ attitude towards the subject being taught and their motivation to attend and engage in class” (p. 21). These authors argued that only a few studies investigated the relationship between games and academic performance and “their results are mixed because of the difference in definitions and methodologies” (p. 22). Larson McClarty & al. (2012) stress the need to identify an agreed upon set of features and to create definitions and models for the different games attributes so that a more coherent research approach can be taken to measure the efficacy of games. They added that unless research can produce clear evidence of the impact of the use of games for learning, games will continue to be considered solely as motivational device.

Summarizing the benefits of games in learning Larson McClarty & al. indicated that “what is most unique about digital games – as opposed to any other learning innovation – is the combination of motivation, engagement, adaptivity, simulation, collaboration, and data collection that can’t be achieved at scale any other way” (p. 22). They concluded that games seem to increase higher-order thinking skills and that “in general, the research supports that digital games can facilitate learning” (p. 23).


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