Gameful Learning Online

Having spent some time learning about Gameful Learning, I am looking forward to investigating the practical aspects. What can we do in our classrooms to implement a Gameful Learning Ecology?

New Generation VLEs

Virtual learning environments have a reputation for being at the educational cutting edge. When we look at them closely, however, it becomes clear that in general they are designed for a largely didactic pedagogy. It seems that most online learning environments are simply attempts to replicate familiar teaching practice online. While this might support a smooth transition to online learning for teachers, it seems to me that this is a missed opportunity. The introduction of online learning should be disruptive enough to trigger a rethink in teaching and learning.

I am reminded here of a story from my childhood. A man was labouring to cut wood for his fire with a old hand saw. In frustration he went to the hardware store for a replacement saw but the shop assistant suggested he buy a chainsaw. The assistant assured the man that he wold cut 10 times as much wood with this chainsaw, without raising a sweat. The woodcutter went home with  the new chainsaw, but he found it no help. In fact it was harder work and slower than the old saw. He returned to the shop to complain that the new chainsaw was no good. The shop assistant was confuse, so he pulled the chord and the engine roared to life. The woodcutter jumped in surprise, “What’s that noise!!” he said.

The moral of that story, of course, is that new tools generally mean changes in the way we do things. If we keep trying to use the old skill set we get no benefit from new tools. This has never been truer that it is with ICT. Unless we rethink teaching and learning we risk getting all of the disadvantages of technology and none of the advantages.

Fortunately we are seeing a new generation of learning software which is based on new pedagogies, designed for the new communications technology. One such package is GradeCraft.

I mention GradeCraft because it was designed specifically to support Gameful Learning. I looked at GradeCraft to better understand how Gameful  Learning looks in practice.


Readers will find the paper “Designing a Game-Inspired Learning Management System” by Caitlin Holman, Stephen Aguilar and Barry Fishman, University of Michigan provides a useful overview of the GradeCraft software design process.

Gameful Learning in GradeCraft

Quoting from Holman, Aguilar and Fishman , the following Gameful Learning ideas have been built into GradeCraft:

  • using points and incremental levels instead of grades
  • awarding badges to recognize achievements and skill-acquisition
  • allowing students to redo assignments as many times as necessary to succeed
  • giving students the ability to decide the types of assignments they would attempt
  • allowing students to determine how much assignments would count towards their final grade
  • having students work together in both self-selected and pre-arranged groups on larger, sometimes competitive, challenges
  • sharing earned skills amongst students
  • requiring the completion of specific assignments and tasks in order to ‘unlock’ other challenges
  • and displaying generalized information regarding classmates’ performance.

It is easy to see how these techniques cover the 3 key principles: competence; autonomy; and belongingness. It is also obvious that attempting to implement all these teaching methods in a traditional classroom, and without the support of technology, would be very difficult. In that respect GradeCraft is realizing the promise of new teaching technology, in that it makes possible a new and better learning ecology, rather than replicating didactic teaching online.

Moving forward from here

In implementing Gameful Learning, one of my early tasks should be a controlled rollout of GradeCraft. Unfortunately I work in a public (government run) secondary college and I don’t have that level of autonomy. In order to move forward I will now investigate how, and to what extent, gameful principles can be applied within the infrastructure I am provided. In simple terms how can I move my current learning ecology, with a number of constraints, in a gameful direction?

I am encouraged by the fact the some gamefulness is better than none and these principles were developed and tested before GradeCraft was written.



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