How gamification is driving learning space design

Schools are reimagining how their learning spaces reflect new instructional approaches

Gamification is moving from simple novelty to a valid pedagogical approach that can deliver powerful learning experiences in higher education and K-12 classrooms alike—and this growth has led to changes in how educators approach their classrooms and physical learning spaces.

Today’s students demand engaging educational experiences and thrive on stimulation and immediate feedback. As games become integrated into learning, game developers are realizing that many gaming attributes—e.g. challenges, rewards, and collaboration—have relevance in the classroom, too.

Part of what’s buoying this change is the fact that instructional models are changing—the sage on the stage model no longer aligns with the way today’s students wish to learn, said Robert Brodnick, founder of Brodnick Consulting Group. Brodnick also is principal at Strategic Initiatives, a management consulting firm, and has served as an administrator and faculty member at three universities. Mainly, his work has focused on building institutional capacity and effectiveness through strategy, planning, and innovation.

Gamification, typically defined as taking elements of game play and adding them to a non-game activity, can be done in different ways, and it’s becoming much more acceptable. Common mechanics include earning points, earning badges, completing and advancing through levels, and moving through challenges or pathways.

“What is so interesting—and this is the real driving force behind why gamification is hitting the learning environment—is that the more people engage in something, the more easily they learn or adapt to it,” Brodnick said. “Gamification, the fun side of serious play, really gets people engaged. It opens us up in new ways. It’s very different than content collection and testing based on your ability to remember something.”

Most gamified learning experiences are set in a narrative or story where the learner plays a role and must become personally engaged to understand how the game unfolds and to successfully complete it, he added. “It’s that storytelling component that helps deepen the engagement and drive motivation.”

About a year ago, Brodnick partnered with KI, a company that helps industries including education equip their physical spaces based on information about current and future trends and needs. In helping KI discover what was and would be impacting learning spaces, Brodnick identified key trends impacting learning journeys.

Next page: What happens when learning spaces don’t meet students’ needs?

Gamification was among the key trends he identified, along with the maker movement, virtual and immersive worlds, and the Internet of Things. Brodnick created conceptual images and videos of classrooms with wheeled desks, moveable walls and groupings of screens to allow for simultaneous viewing to reflect how gamification is changing classrooms and learning spaces.

And when learning spaces change, “it’s a huge deal,” Brodnick said. “Classrooms have remained unchanged for decades. We’ve learned this all really matters. If you build and create spaces in a more flexible way, you’re not dictating to students how they’re going to have to learn.”

Gaming goes mainstream

These days educators don’t need much convincing that gaming is on the rise — or even that it can have a place in education. Just look at Minecraft, which has become a virtual sensation in and out of the classroom. Starting this summer, classrooms hooked on MinecraftEDU will be given the option of migrating to a new education-focused Minecraft title, recently announced by Microsoft who has acquired the rights to MinecraftEDU from Teacher Gaming, a Finnish company.

The rebranded title, called Minecraft: Education Edition, will launch as a free trial this summer, and all MinecraftEDU subscribers will receive a yearlong subscription to the new game. In the meantime, Microsoft is reworking and expanding the new education edition especially for classrooms.

Many educators still need training when it comes to gaming, though, and to that end, a new course in Penn State College of Education’s Learning Design and Technology  program is not only integrating technology in the classroom, it is encouraging the students’ use of commercial video games. The online course offered this summer through Penn State World Campus trains current educators and teachers-in-training how to integrate commercial off-the-shelf video games into their lessons.

“This course develops 21st century teaching skills beyond the basics of technology integration,” said Ali Carr-Chellman, department head and professor of learning and performance systems. “It teaches current and future educators how to keep students engaged in learning by utilizing the technology they use in their everyday lives.”

And the University of California, Irvine is launching an e-sports and gaming initiative this fall, which the university says is the first of its kind at a public research university. A state-of-the-art arena equipped with high-end gaming PCs, a stage for League of Legends competitions and a live webcasting studio will be constructed at the Student Center, and as many as 10 academic scholarships will be offered to students on the team.

“At first, gamification was a fringe tool, not necessarily very common, but people were doing it,” Brodnick said. “I think that when the world got serious about games, and realized so many people, particularly that 12-22 age range, were spending lots of time gaming, research started and companies and developers got serious, even hiring educators and psychologists to help in game design and production.”

Disrupting the learning space

According to Brodnick, there are three things causing a disruption to learning spaces today.

1. Maker co-learning spaces: These spaces are based on the intersecting trends of the maker movement, learning, design thinking, and entrepreneurship. “When you put together design thinking—learning by doing—it has totally disrupted what a classroom should look like,” Brodnick said. “We know now that everything needs to be on wheels. We want things that can be used rapidly. Students are on their feet. They’re sitting, doing, moving.”

2. Immersive visual simulation learning: This model takes trends of visual worlds, the Internet of Things, gamification, and imagines students entering a world based on simulation in which they’re either immersed via a headset or they’re interacting with screens. It’s blurring the lines between what is virtual and what’s real. For instance, science students might step inside a chemical reaction as it occurs to be a part of the reaction, which they see in 3D.

3. Boundary-less learningscape: This is based on trends of personalized learning, project-based learning, and blended learning involving handheld devices. To Brodnick: “Learning is happening out of the classroom, more and more, as students are increasingly connected to each other and to information through their phones. Learning by doing is much more powerful than acquiring content and applying it five years later on the job. As you move around throughout the day, you have learning experiences, and it’s having a significant impact on how campuses designed. You might not need as many classrooms, or as many bookshelves in libraries.”

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