New Research Shows “Gamification” of Learning Can Boost Educational Outcomes

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By Linsey Maughan

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Incorporating elements of gaming into learning environments and workplaces is proving not just trendy, but also effective in producing positive learning outcomes, according to new research from Assistant Professor of Psychology Kristina Bauer and industrial-organizational psychology Ph.D. students Danny Gandara and Caribay Garcia-Marquez.

Bauer has been studying “gamification,” or the application of gaming elements in non-game contexts, for several years. This fall two new studies she co-authored with Gandara and Garcia-Marquez were published.

One of the new publications is a book chapter, “Teaching with Games and Gamification: Best Practices and Future Research Needs,” which appears in the Handbook of Teaching with Technology in Management, Leadership, and Business, published by Edward Elgar Publishing. The chapter is a combination of literature reviews Bauer co-authored with Gandara and Garcia-Marquez, whose research on their dissertation and thesis, respectively, contributed to this chapter.

In addition to offering best practice recommendations, the chapter also contains illustrations of the recommendations and a table with resources for educators interested in gamification. Among the researchers’ recommendations, Bauer says students learn best when they are active participants, and feedback is needed to support motivation and learning. Challenges in a game should be matched to the students’ competence level, and teachers should ensure their students understand how their experiences within a game fit into a larger system. Teachers should also work to ensure they understand the interest, engagement, and confidence levels of their students, as these factors shape learning experiences. Games can be modified to encourage the specific learning behaviors a teacher seeks.

Bauer’s second collaborative paper, “An Examination and Extension of the Theory of Gamified Learning: The Moderating Role of Goal Orientation,” was published in Simulation and Gaming and culled from Garcia-Marquez’s thesis, with Bauer co-authoring. This study found evidence suggesting that receiving virtual badges within a learning context could help motivate individuals who otherwise tend to avoid situations where they fear they may demonstrate incompetence.

“The fact that badges can increase learning self-efficacy (i.e., confidence in being able to learn) for these folks is good because we know that learning self-efficacy is positively related to learning,” Bauer says. “We also think the finding demonstrates how individual differences play a role in learners’ responses to game attributes in a gamified learning experience, which suggests designers should take these individual differences into account.”

Bauer says their research in the area of gamification will continue.

“The lab spent last academic year developing a gamified lecture on job analysis that I can implement into my PSYC 301 course,” Bauer says. “My hope is to eventually collect data for a research study. Our current challenge is figuring out how to automate components of the lecture. I also have a student starting her thesis project, which will focus on gamification of a selection test.”

Photo: Assistant Professor of Psychology Kristina Bauer