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Gamification in Education & Student Engagement

Gamification in Education & Student Engagement

Molly Kittle


By Molly Kittle, Vice President, Digital Strategy, Bunchball

We live in an age of distraction, and perhaps nowhere is that more evident than in a modern classroom. After all, today's students have grown up with information and entertainment at their fingertips. Cable TV, the Internet, smartphones, tablets — is it any wonder that the average person's attention span has plummeted to eight seconds1 — one second less than the average attention span of a goldfish?

Gamification in EducationHow can teachers keep their students interested in learning? What does it take to grab their attention and — perhaps even more importantly — maintain it?

For a growing number of educators, the answer is gamification.

Gamification in education platforms can motivate students to spend more time learning and increase their engagement with extracurricular activities.

Here are two compelling examples:

  • PowerMyLearning is a popular K-12 digital learning platform used by more than 30,000 schools throughout the United States. Owned and operated by the nonprofit CFY, PowerMyLearning is designed to personalize instruction and drive student ownership of learning via playlists of educational content customized to meet students' needs. The platform has become a go-to destination for curated content aligned to the Common Core State Standards and spanning a range of subjects, including math, English Language Arts, science, technology and more.

    In 2013, CFY's team was looking for ways to optimize their already successful platform. They wanted to motivate students to visit PowerMyLearning more frequently and to spend more time on-site once they are there. That's where Bunchball came into the story. We worked with the folks at CFY to develop a student engagement strategy and identify key performance metrics and analytics. Then, we helped them integrate the Nitro Platform into the PowerMyLearning online learning system.

    Now, PowerMyLearning students earn "Power" as they interact with learning activities on the site. They can compete with friends and classmates, check their progress on class leaderboards, and level-up as they perform challenges and accomplish more.

    And students aren't the only ones impacted by the new gamified platform. The PowerMyLearning user base includes educators and parents, and they're benefiting, too. For example, teachers are using the gamification features to assign playlists of activities to keep their students' skills sharp over breaks or even long weekends. Meanwhile, parents are establishing their PowerMyLearning goals and tracking progress online so they can offer real-world rewards for successes.

    Since gamification was incorporated into the PowerMyLearning platform, CFY has seen a 42 percent increase in the time students spend on-site, as well as nearly a three-fold increase in the number of pages students view per visit. Clearly, students are motivated to spend more time learning, connect and compete with friends and earn rewards set by their parents. (You can see examples of PowerMyLearning student dashboards and many more details in this case study.)

  • A few months ago, Syracuse University's Whitman School of Management launched the Goodman IMPRESS Program as a way to initiate meaningful partnerships and responsibilities to encourage student success. As illustrated in this infographic, IMPRESS gamifies extracurricular education to help students achieve these five learning objectives:
    • Major and industry exploration
    • Personal and professional leadership development
    • Certifications
    • Community engagement
    • Global context

Even better, IMPRESS was designed around a "Harry Potter" theme to make it more engaging to students. Students are organized by "houses," and as the current standings reveal, the competition is stiff. It's too soon for us to report on results from IMPRESS, but the early buzz is encouraging. In Fortune last September, Amanda Nicholson, associate dean and professor of practice at Whitman, described IMPRESS as a potential game-changer for schools that want to keep students motivated and encourage them to become well-rounded.

These are just two examples that help illustrate the benefit; when education platforms are gamified, students see a connection between their work and positive feedback, and so they become eager and willing to learn and contribute. As a result, academic performance (or, as with the IMPRESS program described above, extracurricular performance) improves, measurably and fast.

I anticipate we're going to see many more applications of gamification in education in the year ahead. Gamification works because it taps into the intrinsic motivators all humans share, no matter whether it's students in grade school, college, or adults in the workplace.

Look out, goldfish.


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