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How ‘game mechanics’ can revitalize education

Many of the elements and engagement factors found in games can help inform the shape of tomorrow’s classrooms.

Today’s students are ahead of their time—or at least, their careers are. According to “Futurework: Trends and Challenges for Work in the 21st Century (from the U.S. Department of Labor), 65 percent of today’s grade-school kids will end up at jobs that haven’t been created yet. How do we cultivate an empowered workforce, one that is capable of interacting with multiple forms of technology that permeate and transform our lives, while the technology continues to evolve at such a rapid pace?

Generation Z, or the iGeneration (children who never knew a time without the internet), not only use the internet and mobile technology as a resource for knowledge, but also to socialize, communicate, build individualized spaces, and craft experiences that yield to their will with few constraints. Today’s youth literally hold the key to technology’s very form, function, and structure in the palm of their hands.

Instead of attempting to pry these devices from millions of tiny fists, as was the instinct of many educational gatekeepers at one time in our not-too-distant past, many are embracing the idea that it’s time to meet this new generation in their own space. But where, exactly, is that?

Jane McGonigal, a well-known game designer and expert writer on the topic, says that 183 million Americans, as part of half a billion people worldwide, play video games at least an hour a day. Perhaps inspecting people’s inherent desire to be playful and their love of games can help us solve the challenge of shaping a user experience for students that will prepare them to meet not only the Common Core, but also the increasingly rigorous demands of a highly competitive global workforce.

This new generation has a much higher expectation from the system then ever before. They are tough customers by the time they enter formal teaching environments, long accustomed to highly engaging elements embedded in their everyday lives. Schools need to provide a user experience that matches or exceeds what students experience in their “leisure” game play in order to keep them engaged—and learning.

Can the power of the game space (a system that feels more like a game than a classroom) be harnessed to aid instruction? How do we guarantee that students/players will actually learn? Many of the elements and engagement factors found in any number of games across a wide range of platforms and genres can help inform the shape of tomorrow’s classrooms.

(Next page: What education can learn from game mechanics)

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  1. brownjoce

    February 12, 2013 at 7:21 pm

    This is really interesting, I have never really thought about how much our economy has and will change over the years as technology grows. It will be great to watch it group in the classroom with teaching and learning techniques in this next year. I am a undergrad right now planning on becoming a teacher and when my generation gets in the classroom it will be reall neat to see what happends since we are already so use to all the technology that would be used.

  2. matthewbelskie

    February 12, 2013 at 9:39 pm

    I actually wrote my thesis on this topic and examined the game mechanics within Khan Academy to illustrate examples.

    I personally feel that Jane McGonigal often misses the mark, and strays too far into the realm of the ideal; Kurt Squire and JP Gee are far better examples in part because they’re both actually using these gaming mechanics in classes.

    • cfruin

      February 14, 2013 at 4:46 pm

      I’d love more information on your thesis. Anyway to take it this offline for an in depth discussion?

    • danielrabone

      March 11, 2013 at 5:33 pm

      Would also be very interested in your thesis, if you are in a position to share. Many thanks on your response to the article :).

    • danielrabone

      March 11, 2013 at 5:34 pm

      Would also be very interested in a copy, if you are in a position to share. Many thanks on your response to the article :).


    February 15, 2013 at 10:03 pm

    Triggering the desired behavior is an important aspect of the engagement ecosystem. We can’t recognize improvement unless we can assist student in taking first step. BJ Fogg at Stanford’s Persuasion Lab writes extensively about the importance of relevant triggers. works wit Kaplan, Pearson (Connections Learning), Scientific Learning and Adaptive Curriculum to utilize gaming mechanics to increase the frequency of targeted behaviors (time on task, frequency, attendance, performance). In all cases, the addition of select “engagement mechanics” and relevant triggers increased the frequency of the desired behavior significantly!