Category Archives: Gamification

Thoughts on gamification, the use of game mechanics to influence motivations.

Jisc Digital Media gamification infokit

Jisc Digital Media have just launched their latest infokit, concerning Gamification. I am the researcher and author behind it.

This work took a bit longer than planned, for several reasons. One of which was the trip into the heart of gamification being somewhat long and winding; there’s only so many points and leaderboards you can look at before you start going a bit Benjamin L. Willard. A few of the systems I looked at are listed in the infokit; there were more. (Too) many more.

Despite being the sole author of the infokit, there have been a lot of influences on it. These include Karla Youngs with chat and comments, Martin Hamilton (Digital Futures) and Jon Knight for various chats about gamification, and Lawrie Phipps (lawrie : converged), with whom I had a long chat on a barge several years back about the value(s) of technology in education. Some of that talk has stuck in the mind and was influential on the chapter concerning gamifying your learning situation.

The quality writing of several academic education specialists has also been useful and thought provoking. These include Lorna Campbell (Open World), David Kernohan (Followers of the Apocalypse), Nicola Whitton (play think learn) and Sheila McNeill (howsheilaseesIT). The writing of Richard Hall (Richard Hall’s Space) was especially influential on the appendix concerning academia as a gamified system. And Rachel Bruce is always awesome to bounce academic ideas off, no matter the timezone.

I’ve also spoken to, heck, a *lot* of teachers (especially) and lecturers through 2015 about gamification. Their views have been … diverse, and often strongly worded. But always useful.

Jisc Digital Media gamification infokit

My own thoughts on gamification – specifically, gamification in education – are … complicated. To greatly simply: the attractiveness of gamification, from a ‘shiny’ perspective, is clear. As is the possibility of nudging or motivating or engaging a part of a cohort. However, the dangers are also clear; some students who were doing okay before gamification came along could be demotivated, repelled or excluded by a gamified learning system. And many other things can go wrong; it’s not surprising that the longest chapter in the infokit deals with issues, problems and weaknesses. Vendors are everywhere, selling the shiny. And that shiny may or may not work; many factors influence, and the research base is in a state of catch-up. Even if it does work, that shiny may be expensive; vendors don’t do sales pitches because they love the smell of leaderboards in the morning, either.

Additionally, there are data privacy concerns. Generating micro-data about learning performances of students is one thing. Showing comparative performances in a leaderboard, or some other game mechanic, is another. Doing the same for schoolchildren: even more problematic. Storing and displaying gamified data about their classroom behavior, as opposed to learning performances: seriously problematic. Where there is personalised data, there is usually, eventually, a marketplace for it.

But returning to the issue of expense and cost, one area that seems positive is the homebrew, DIY, low tech, low complexity, gamification scene. Sticky stars on wallcharts; google spreadsheets adaptations; gamification plugins for WordPress, Joomla and Drupal; extensions for moodle; additional functionality for your VLE. Structures and content which you can build yourself, without losing control, data privacy and a huge chunk of budget to some third-party company. Systems that do not overawe the students who were happily working anyway, before people suggested gamifying their learning processes. There could be something there. More quality research, as ever, would be useful.

And there are other positive attributes. Badges are a distinctly interesting thing that have been around for a long time; since probably the first organisation and ranking of people in any way. Open Badges are especially interesting, as they seem to be solving some of the problems within digital badges. They also won’t ruin your departmental budget.

If you read the infokit, I hope you find some of it interesting. I don’t expect you to agree with all of it; in fact, some parts should incite discomfort or profound disagreement in many people; if they don’t, I’ve probably failed. But I hope the final section makes you ponder (though please do not quit your job in academia because of something in there; I do not want that burden on me).


Review: Understanding Gamification

I reviewed the ALA report “Understanding Gamification”; it can be found in Ariadne.

The print version is a little pricey, but it’s free to read online or download each chapter. Overall, the report is a pretty good text if you are new to the concept.

Understanding Gamification

The DuoLingo experience

At the end of last year, I met up with the Jisc Futurist again for what’s becoming our seasonal meal out. This one was ‘winter’, spent indoors in a pleasant Mediterranean restaurant. Once I’d gotten used to DMs and RTs illuminating on his watch, we were served some excellent vegetarian and burnt animal foods.

Med food

And in our meals one thing we regularly do is, inevitably, discuss DuoLingo at some point. Martin has young children who do this, without parental support or prodding, so he sees how they use it. I keep coming across DuoLingo (and am using it, albeit haphazardly) as it keeps being mentioned as the flagship for gamification-enhanced education, though the gamification and game elements are arguably the least interesting (neat though they are).

DuoLingo is a persistently interesting example. As TJF points out, there are a lot of people using it; the kind of numbers that the education sector need to keep an eye on. It’s free, easy to use, quick to get started, and there’s the nice intrinsic hooks of achieving through earning gamified things and learning a language at the same time. In fact it’s so easy to get going (old tech is fine; seconds, not minutes, to start) that there’s little excuse for EdTech commentators to not try it before commenting.

And, and this may be the attribute that makes it so usable, it is ferociously quick to move through a lesson – even though you have to achieve more right answers than wrong. Got a few minutes? You can do a new lesson or repeat a previously completed one.


It’s not perfect. Languages come out of an incubator somewhat rough around the edges, and not of academically rigorous quality. Volunteers, rather than certified experts, develop this initial content. Speech and sound, vital to speaking a new language correctly, is of variable quality. And the translations that players are given (which are part of the business model) are sometimes random, irrelevant or things you will never say.

But it’s been around for a few years and the numbers do add up. And by that I mean the large number of users/players/learners, and the proportion reaching advanced stages and completing (as opposed to MOOC drop-out rates). Not everyone benefits; there’s always losers. While taxi drivers complain about Uber taking away their business, there’s less in the press about the language teaching and translation sectors taking substantial damage with individuals fearing for their futures. But it’s happening.


So, yes. Worth a “play”, at the very least.

Once more unto the gamification breach

(How one word can ruin a classic phrase, any phrase, but I’ll come back to that)

It’s the first of December. The shortest day is soon here; the earliest sunset, for those of us who like walks in the woods, somewhat earlier. Christmas saturates the TV, the High Street and the online Street. My gym is quiet, never a wait for the rowing machines, for one more month until the New Year resolution people make an appearance or two.

And today I’m starting a new piece of work, in the tricky, controversial and sometimes deeply annoying niche of Gamification in Education. Over the next few months I’m synthesizing existing and emerging research, and actual examples, with some critical leeway. The format of the completed and public work is not strictly cast in stone but is currently slated as ten lumps of text as headlined in this snapshot from the contract:


I’m glad I’m doing this work. It snugly complements a larger framework of Games in Education research, with a defined timescale, that I’m knee-deep in. And there’s a long-term itch, this gamification in education issue I’ve been wanting to scratch, now that there’s a substantial amount of contemporary research to read. Some of which so far has inspired, some has left me with an empty nihilistic feeling, and a fraction has made me quietly despair for either the future of humanity, or education, or the notion that the end-point of research is no longer to add to the sum of human knowledge.

But of the better research in gamification and the related-but-not-the-same field of games in education, Nic Whitton‘s excellent “Digital Games and Learning: Research and Theory” book concludes, in part, with:

“…I believe that the current hype over gamification will die down, as it is shown not to be a motivational panacea, and the market will become saturated with points, badges and leaderboards. However, there may be a gradual shift towards more sophisticated models of gamification…”

…and I have a gut feeling Nic will be proved right. Ian Bogost, a game culture critique and digital cow curator, entertainingly (with a point) takes a sceptical stance on gamification:

“More specifically, gamification is marketing bullshit, invented by consultants as a means to capture the wild, coveted beast that is videogames and to domesticate it for use in the grey, hopeless wasteland of big business, where bullshit already reigns anyway.”

At the other end of the tech-in-ed spectrum are many who fly various pro-gamification banners, including the problematic badges for everything brigade (an early title of the 3,000+ word specification for this work was ‘Badges are not the only fruit’). No, badges. Everywhere. Personally, I’ll be curious as to how much my feeling on gamification has shifted come the end of this work. It should be more nuanced; if not, I’ve done something wrong. Whether it’s more pro- or anti-, and whether the feeling is the same with gamification as applied to (or forced on) education, is another thing.

As a side-point and conclusion here, a small part of the problem with gamification is … the word gamification. It sounds horribly artificial, something dreamt up by the marketing team from hell. Perhaps it was? Some find it difficult to say. And it’s five syllables so it really slows down a piece of writing or monologue, and trips up the speaker or reader, pointlessly. Say ‘’gamification’ fifteen times (no badge for doing that) and see how annoying it is by the end.

Those three factors, combined, possibly prejudice and pre-load much impartial discussion. I’m also not looking forward to reading it, and writing it, many times a day for a few months so one of the very first things that will be done – partially to offset bias, and partially to maintain sanity – will be to try and find an alternative or workaround.

Wish me luck (or, at the least, the retention of objective sanity).