Answering #Gamification Questions from a 7th Grade Student-Part 1

The other day I received a very nice email from a 7th grade student in a high school is California. She wanted to know if I could answer a few questions about gamification as she saw my TEDx talk and has gotten interested in the subject of games and gamification for learning. I think it is awesome that she is so excited about games and gamification for learning so here are the questions and my answers. Thanks for the email (although, it is a lot of questions:).

1. Many teachers use the standard learning methods (textbooks, paper, pencil, etc.). Most don’t even know about gamification in education. What’s the average amount of teachers that try the gamified version of learning?

I don’t have a number on the amount of teachers that try gamified versions of learning but I have a few numbers and ideas that might give us some insight. According to one study, 55% of teachers use games in the classroom on a weekly basis (“Teachers Surveyed” 2013). Another study indicates that the serious games (or learning games) market is growing at rate of about 16% a year so it is highly probable that at least 80% of teachers have used some form of game or gamification in the classroom.

Additionally, it has been argued that school itself is a form of gamification. You get points for spelling words correctly or knowing history. You “level up” by going from 7th grade to 8th grade. You get badges in the form of letters. You have a leaderboard which is called Class Rank. It might not be thought of as “gamification” but it has many game elements.

I think also the growth of tools for gamification in the classroom is further indication of the growth of games and gamification in K-12. You now have tools like Classcraft which, according to it’s web site, is used in “over 20,000 schools”. Also, Class Dojo which, according to it’s web site, is “used in 90% K-8 schools in US” and Kahoot! which, again according to it’s web site, has created over 10 million publicly available kahoots on learning platform.

So I’d say the average is probably higher than you might think. However, it’s important to know that some teachers might use a little gamification or a one time gamification experience in a classroom while others might have a longer gamified process of points or some other use of gamification.

2. If there was a gamified approach while you were at school, do you think your grades would have improved?

I was pretty academically oriented after 8th grade. BUT, up until that time, I was not all that interested in traditional school stuff. Actually, in 3rd grade my parents and the teacher thought I might need to drop out because I wasn’t getting it. I found school to be boring. But once I figured out how to work the school “game” or system, I did ok, so I guess I gamed the system myself.

So, yes. I do think that games and gamification would have been more engaging at the lower levels for me. I do remember one game a teacher played with us when class was over, it was really engaging although it was using a game more as an incentive to get our work done rather than an integral part of the learning process. So, yes, games and gamification would have engaged me much more than I was engaged. Although, I had great teachers who did incorporate games and game elements into my education so I was fortunate in that aspect. But if it had been more gamified, I might have been an early bloomer instead of waiting until all most high school to finally get interested.

3. What are the reasons that students are attracted to games and gamified learning?

First of all, I think that people play games for different reasons so it is not a “one size fits all”. Games are attractive because they allow the player to freely make mistakes and mistakes are expected and encouraged…that’s why you get multiple tries or lives in a game. Games also give the player a sense of mastery. You play a game and you obtain a certain level of mastery and you feel good because you’ve overcome an obstacle. Games show instant feedback and progression. In most school environments, students don’t know how well they’ve done until much later–a day, a week. In a game, you know right away if you are “getting it” or if you are falling behind.

4. What’s the average improvement in grades? AND 5. What’s the improvement in retention?

Well, the studies, at this time are mixed. Sometimes there are big improvements and sometimes not big improvements and because the terms “games” and “gamification” are so broad, it’s hard to say that there is an overall improvement percentage in grades due to one type of game or gamification over another. We are in the early stages of research on the subject. Hopefully when you get into college, maybe you can do some research on the effectiveness.

However, we do know that games can facilitate learning and help improve learning outcomes over traditional lectures. Here are some research results that indicate that games are effective for improving retention. Several meta-analysis studies (study of studies) have indicated that game-based learning is more effective for learning than traditional classroom instruction. In fact, a study by Wouters (2013) comparing results from 38 individuals studies found that learning games or serious games are more effective in terms of learning and retention than conventional methods (lectures, discussions). They also found that learners in serious games learned more, relative to those taught with conventional instruction methods (lectures and discussions), when the game was augmented with other instructional methods, when multiple sessions were involved, and when players worked in groups.

Sitzmann (2011) conducted a meta-analysis of 65 independent samples and data from more
than 6,000 trainees and found that trainees who had played games as opposed to participating in conventional instructional methods “had 11% higher declarative knowledge levels, 14% higher procedural knowledge levels, and 9% higher retention levels than trainees in the comparison group.” She also found that the games were “17% more effective than lecture and 5% more effective than discussion, the two most popular instructional methods in classroom instruction.

6. What are the positive effects of gamification?

Motivation can be a huge positive impact of gamification. Immediate feedback on correct or incorrect answers and a sense of working together (if done in teams) as well as the concept of doing a little bit of learning over time which is called distributed practice. This is a better way to learn than cramming which is to try to learn a great deal of information all at once.

7. What are the negative effects of gamification?

As with any instructional intervention, there are some negatives with gamification. The biggest is that if you set up a situation where some students “win” and some students “lose” then you are going to have hard feelings for the students that do not win. This can de-motivational for some learners. Good gamification and games need to focus on learning and downplay the losing. It doesn’t mean there are not losers but it needs to be presented correctly (it also doesn’t mean everyone gets a trophy) learning comes through overcoming challenges and obstacles.

Also, it can take time to implement and play a game. So time is a factor and can be a disadvantage. Another disadvantage can be perception. Parents might think that if their son or daughter are playing games in school then they are not really learning. There are a number of negative factors.

8. What are the reasons that it motivates us more than traditional learning?

There are many but the one I think is most important is the “freedom to fail.” Games and gamification allow us to fail freely. When we play a game we don’t always expect to win–that’s part of the fun or uncertainty. So we accept failure more easily than we do in a traditional school setting. I think learning really comes from overcoming difficulties and games provide plenty of difficulties that can be overcome. Games let us fail and try again. We want to “play again” if we lose and then we have a chance to approach the game differently. I think this is really important for learning. It shows that failure can be overcome, it forces the player to think differently than their original approach and causes reflection on the experience. All of these elements contribute to learning and are the nature result of play a game.

9. How long have you taught as a teacher/teacher’s aid?

I have been a professor for over 19 years. I have taught in a corporate setting before becoming a professor for several years. So I’ve been teaching in one setting or another for over 25 years.

Part Two is posted here.


Teachers Surveyed on Using Digital Games in Class. (2013). Resource document Games and Learning.

Serious game market size to grow at 16.38% CAGR to 2020 in terms of value say global serious games research reports focusing on state of play, challenges and industry prospects. (2015, September 18). Resource document  PR Newswire. Accessed 28 March 2016.

Sitzmann, T. (2011). A meta-analytic examination of the instructional effectiveness of computer-based simulation games. Personnel Psychology, 64(2), 489–528.

Wouters, P., van Nimwegen, C., van Oostendorp, H., & van der Spek, E. D. (2013). A meta-analysis of the cognitive and motivational effects of serious games. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105(2), 249–265.

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Karl Kapp
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