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Can Gameplay Set High Scores for Learning?

Can Gameplay Set High Scores for Learning?

  • Classroom
  • Classroom

When Associate Professor of Psychology Rachel Hayes thought about her own motivation and resilience as a student, she spotted a pattern that looked a lot like gameplay. There were challenges that came in increasingly difficult stages—with satisfying rewards and discoveries that motivated her to keep going throughout.

She recognized gameplay as an equally powerful motivator for her own students—NCAA student-athletes, PlayStation phenoms and boardgame champions alike. She used support from NWU’s new Learning Leaders Fellowship to study how professors can use gamification to advance their students’ academic learning.

She shared these tips for teachers and parents with Archways magazine last fall.

Keep it fun.

Not all teachers want to also be entertainers. But they do want to share their passion for the subjects they teach. Gameplay can be that point of entry where students discover what is fascinating and fun about any subject from physics to finance.

Keep score.

The things we choose to measure almost always become important. If there’s a classroom behavior teachers want to reinforce, games give them a way to track it and show progress.

Win fabulous prizes.

Rewards—even small ones—are intrinsically motivating. Teachers can pair small prizes—bonus points, candy, early dismissal—with noteworthy performance.

Be quick.

Video games are great at giving immediate feedback. “Think of a health bar flashing red at the top of the screen,” Hayes said. “It’s this clear signal your strategy isn’t working.” Gamers use that feedback to adapt quickly. Teachers can use that same framework of immediate feedback to leverage large and rapid positive adaptations in their students.

Lower the stakes. Increase the creativity.

People risk less when they fear what they might lose. Games create low-stakes scenarios where it’s OK to risk it all and see what happens. That’s actually a great environment for learning. “Gamification encourages students to be far more creative with the concepts they’re learning,” Hayes said.

Rachel Hayes



Rachel Hayes

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