5 things teachers can learn from video games

5 things teachers can learn from video games

In this time and age, you would think that video games only steal homework time and offer distractions to students. Maybe this is not entirely true. Perhaps if we designed our assessments the way video games work, this would open some new avenues to make learning better, faster, and quite possibly more fun.

I am not just talking about gamification here, but more like building assessment systems using gaming principles to foster student engagement, interest and loyalty.

1. Building resilience

A video game is not an assessment. Nobody will tell you, "You get one chance to attempt level 1 on Monday morning at 10.00am". Quite on the opposite, you get as many tries as possible, and very often failure gets you to think about a better course of action to achieve what you want. Achieving success becomes a question of when rather than if. This is a fundamental difference with most of the summative assessments that take place in schools. I once played a game where you had 72 hours to complete a task. If you died, you lost. If others discovered what you were up to, you lost. If you did not complete the mission within 72 hours you lost. You had just one chance to obtain a special trophy. To date, I still have this bitterness and resentment, because I knew that if I could have tried a different approach, I might have succeeded. Video games help build resilience, because they do not judge you. You can try as many times as you want. What matters is the end result. When you can ride a bike, you forget about all your unsuccessful attempts that led you to master this skill.

2. Progress

Game achievements and trophies provide short and long-term goals to achieve. These can give instant feedback to the player, recognise that he or she has reached a goal, or encourage them to work towards the next milestone. Some of the challenges can outline to the user what is of value, the key concepts that need to be mastered, while some others can just be put in place in order to engage the student immediately. Unlocking game achievements and trophies provide a great sense of progress, and if there are enough of them, they always provide the player with new challenges to rise to.

3. Target Setting

Player levels are meaningless per se, yet they tell you where you are in your game journey. They provide the metrics to measure progress, and leaderboards give instant snapshots of achievement. Moreover, in online multiplayer games, players are matched with other of similar levels to ensure that the game is challenging enough. If the level of others is too high, the game becomes impossible. And if it is too low, the lack of challenge makes the whole experience boring for everyone. We set people in schools according to abilities too, but how good are we at doing that? We all give targets to our students, but would it not be better if target setting was less rigid and more organic? If students had more choice when they set their own targets, surely they would regain this sense of ownership of their own learning. They could decide their personal path to success, and be motivated to progress on it.

4. Tracking

A badges system offers instant gratification, because it is a measurement of a skill in a community that understands its value. A number of school subjects are skill-based, and mastery is achieved when a set of skills is complete. Too often the completion of a set of skills has to happen in a set order, usually dictated by the demands of the curriculum. Because not two students are the same, everyone should be given the chance to achieve the required skills in the order that they feel the most confident with. Often, there is a hierarchy that needs to be respected, but not always. Badges break down bigger tasks into smaller ones, giving everyone a sense of achievement, one step at the time.

5. Value Added

While most of the trophies are quite common and easy to obtain, some are downright almost impossible to get. They prove a true challenge to the most tenacious gamers. In the top image, you will see that the very rare trophy awarded for earning all the trophies in the game is achieved by 2.5% of the players. In relation to the number of copies sold, that is almost 10,000 people. Learning becomes a quest for rarities, where different students can achieve success in many different ways. There is not one right answer, but instead a multitude of possible right answers that give everyone the chance to achieve something of value. Nobody fails, yet competition kicks in to see who manages to get the rarest rewards.

Implementing the reward systems of video games into education is by no means an easy task, as it requires careful planning and implementation, but the benefits would be immense. It offers flexibility never achieved before and would certainly boost the sense of achievement and competition of students, while truly offering a personalised learning experience for everyone.