How gamification spoils e-learning

In our Articulate modules you won’t find stars sheets, scores or little icon characters jumping up and down every time you have accomplished a course goal. We don’t add badges to the Moodle eWorkshops we design.

I believe gamification introduces an artificial element into a learning environment that needs to be intrinsically engaging and inspiring. Gamification and badges poison the genuine ‘fun’. It makes the designers and e-facilitators lazy too. We need praise for real work and real learning, not a game based on behaviours – that’s too shallow.

It seems that most clients we work with agree that gamification doesn’t belong in the typical subjects we develop e-learning for, nor would it be appreciated by the learners we serve.

Let’s be clear, I’m talking adult learning here, not kids’ education games. I’m also not talking about the serious games used in health care or in pilot training for example, which I agree is a highly effective approach to learning. The gamification I’m talking about is the simplistic progress mechanics (badges, scores, quizzes…) which are meant to be motivating adults but look plain silly.

And gamification in Moodle? The badges are widespread now but not often used in our eWorkshops. I can’t see the value in giving out badges for tasks completed or certain behaviours shown, when our aim is to nurture and augment extrinsic motivation – making sure participants get hooked through smart activities and expert e-facilitation.

Or is this all a misunderstanding? There is a lot of confusion about what can be considered gamification and what isn’t. Perhaps we’re missing the point?

Darcy Jacobson’s article ‘5 myths about gamification that everyone should know’ clarified a few issues for me.

I learned that it’s is in fact ‘pointsification’ that frustrates me. The problem is that we’re not creating real games, but instead focusing in a more or less subtle way on ‘points’. Margaret Robertson coined the term ‘pointsification’ and defines it as “taking the thing that is least essential to games and representing it as the core of the experience”. She writes: “Gamification is the wrong word for the right idea. The word for what’s happening at the moment is pointsification. There are things that should be pointsified. There are things that should be gamified. There are things that should be both. There are many, many things that should be neither.”

Great ideas too in this presentation ‘9.5 theses on the power and efficacy of gamification’ by Sebastian Deterding, which further explains the concept of ‘ludification’, which is “the more critical part about what makes games so appealing”. But this is hard to design and develop. Is this why most of the sector resort to poinsification instead?

Unfortunately, pointsification is what many people mean when they talk about gamification. It is (still) being promoted as the future of e-learning, yet it limits the potential for real engagement and learning. Games need to be designed and developed by actual game designers. By pretending to be the real thing gamification remains problematic.

In the sectors in which I work, it is essential to provide meaningful learning environments that nurture emotional engagement and critical thinking. It’s a lot of ‘fun’ but I’m staying away from gamification… well, pointsification.

Not all e-learning design has to be responsive
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