Nowadays, with an increasing number of schools and after-school tutoring programs utilizing games to reach educational benchmarks, you may have heard the term ‘gamification’ of education (especially if you’ve worked with us!). But what does that really mean? Previously, we discussed the overall role of gaming in twenty-first-century education, but today, we will dive into the specifics of how gamification works for learning purposes.
Firstly, the term gamification refers to integrating game mechanics into a non-game environment in order to give it a game-like feel.  When used in an educational setting, the purpose is to increase student engagement and motivation to grasp specific learning outcomes through play. More specifically, instructors or tutors will utilize particular game mechanics, rules, or dynamics to help their students reach these outcomes. This article will take a closer look at how gamification in education works by analyzing the difference between game mechanics versus game rules, as well as how game dynamics ultimately motivate students to learn through playing games.
Game Mechanics vs. Game Rules
Although the two may sound quite similar, game mechanics and game rules have separate functions when used in the context of gamification in education. Game mechanics describe the particular components of the game at the level of data representation and algorithms, while game rules determine the endorsed behaviours that are consequently pursued.  Some examples of game mechanics would be points, leader boards, or levels, whereas rules would be the restrictions or guidelines set in place to achieve these mechanics (for example, how points are won or lost would be the rules, but the point themselves would be classified as game mechanics).
An excellent example to illustrate the difference between game mechanics and game rules is the language learning game Duolingo. Duolingo tracks your progress through leagues that are based on how many experience points you get from lessons you accurately complete. Furthermore, there are heart-shaped trackers that deplete as you make mistakes (although they do regenerate), and the game tracks your progress over time and awards you accordingly. In this example, the game rule would simply be getting the questions correct, while the game mechanics would be the experience points you receive that result in gaining or losing your league. Duolingo also increases engagement and motivation by adding a social element. If you connect on the platform, you can track other users’ progress and send notifications (like a virtual high five!) for achievements like long streaks or completing monthly challenges. This added social element not only increases student engagement, but the game rules and game mechanics culminate in something called game dynamics, which is the ultimate motivator for students when it comes to game-based learning.
So now that we understand the difference between game rules and game mechanics, let’s dive into how the game dynamics are what truly motivate student learning and engagement. For starters, game dynamics describe the run-time behaviour of the mechanics acting on the players.  In other words, it refers to the different actions that players can take in your game.  A straightforward illustration of this concept is any game where you roll a die and move squares or places based on the number. However, this doesn’t quite explain how the game dynamics contribute to student motivation and engagement in the classroom. Why are students motivated to play these games for educational purposes?
Well, for games in general, and especially for games that instructors or tutors are using, there are some common desires that must be satisfied through the game dynamics in order for the students to be engaged and motivated. Some of these common desires include rewards, status, achievement, self-expression, competition, and altruism.  For example, many students are very reward-motivated, meaning a game used in the classroom for learning purposes could even be as simple as implementing a points system based on student achievements that results in a real-life reward like extra recess time or a Starbucks card (depending on your audience).
Notice how I mention both rewards and achievements here; as humans, we have an inherent need to set attainable goals and reach them, especially if a desirable reward is given as a result. To illustrate my point, let’s go back to the Duolingo example and briefly analyze the game in terms of these desires. Your achievements are recorded by tracking your progress on leader boards, your status is granted based on the league you are in, you are rewarded throughout the game by levelling up (not to mention learning a new language), and you may find that it’s a competition to stay ahead of your classmates or other users. As you can see, some of the common desires are harder to execute in the gamification of education setting. For example, self-expression might be more challenging to achieve with certain games in an educational setting, but that’s where after-school tutoring programs can pick up the slack with a customized approach to game-based learning for the student. Ultimately, game dynamics are the ‘why’ behind student motivation and engagement when it comes to learning through gamification of education techniques.
When familiarizing yourself with all there is to know about how gamification works, particularly in education, it’s important to remember that gamification does not require the gamified product to turn into a complete game.  As an instructor or tutor, you will want to utilize game rules, mechanics, and dynamics to your advantage to leverage engaging educational opportunities for your students. Still, it does not mean that game-based learning overrides traditional classroom methods. In fact, gamification of education should be used as a meaningful supplementary learning tool, allowing for a customized approach to individualizing teaching to reach learning outcomes, but not as a replacement to standard methods.
If you are interested in finding out more about game-based learning and if it could help you or someone you know, reach out to our expert tutors at Knowledge Bump today. We offer a wide range of services, including test prep, essay help, editing services, and one-on-one online tutoring, where we can utilize tailor-made gamification of education techniques to improve student learning outcomes and engagement. Everyone deserves to learn better, and by employing game rules, mechanics, and dynamics strategically, we can help you reach your specific learning goals today!
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