The Growth of Gamification: What it Means for Schools and Districts

Learning, PreK-12

Kelsey Voss

Gamification, applying game-designed thinking to non-gaming applications, is a tool that’s grown in popularity and is creatively advancing education in the United States.

Educators see the gamification of teaching as a way to “take a more active role in learning” as students “develop the technology skills they need to succeed throughout their academic and professional careers,” according to Scientific American. Gaming needs to “leverage engagement, mindset and design,” says Maker Mom Marie Bjerede.

Education Contracts Prove Gamification Is Not Just Edutainment

In the first half of 2015, EdTech investments in the learning technology industry surged to a record setting $2.51 billion, outpacing the entire year of 2014. Sam S. Adkins, Chief Research Officer at Ambient Insight Research told that “not only is the investment total of $2.51 billion astonishing, but the sheer volume of deals is phenomenal. In the first half of 2015, 262 edutech companies on the planet were funded, which is a 66% increase over the first half of 2014.” LinkedIn’s acquisition of for $1.5 billion illustrates the boom. The prevalence of open bids and RFPs, and investments in game-based learning signals that the growth of gamification is on the rise.

Not just on the fringe for edutainment, educators look to gamification to help teach core lessons. Games can provide students with a personalized learning experience while covering lessons required by Common Core and Next Generation Science standards. MIT’s Education Arcade & Scheller Teacher Education Program published Moving Learning Games Forward which highlights that modern standards miss “a good deal of what is valued in and out of the classroom” including higher order thinking skills, new media literacies and interdisciplinary learning. Well-designed games can “push the boundaries of learning and drive the need for redefining standards to include valuable new skills and knowledge.”

Gamification also fits nicely with the Hour of Code initiative to teach computer science and can inspire students to learn code (check out Getting Smart on Coding for College & Career Readiness). One example that illustrates how vendors can introduce young students to programming through gamification is a crowdsourced successful Kickstarter campaign to fund new programmable robots, easily controlled from a smartphone or tablet, that teach programming, design and 3D printing while playing. Students use programming to solve puzzles, control Cannybots on race tracks and create new game play styles.

According to Onvia’s Project Center there are a number of gamification opportunities in the works. As expected, the projects are concentrated in the educational products & services, information technology software & services as well as professional & training services industries.

Salinas City Elementary School District in California
Purchase Order Analytics lists an $8,800 purchase order for a game design and programming consultant to teach students technology and problem solving through coding and gamification projects during a three-week course. Courses like this can provide students with techniques for solving conceptual problems in addition to learning how to code.

Des Moines Independent Community School District in Iowa
Issued a bid for secondary writing feedback software. One desired requirement is that the student interface provides response to student answers with positive feedback and gamification/rewards.

James City County in Virginia
Issued an RFP for a one-year contract with four possible extensions for an online, adaptive math technology solution for grades K-5. Teacher request that the solution aligns to the Virginia Standards of Learning, offers anytime, anywhere access, addresses current and future trends in the industry, supports student achievement gains with tiered levels, and provides fun, dynamic, game-based and engaging content.

Help for Educators: Top Vendors in the Game Space

Building effective game-based programs in schools can be challenging. Vendors have an opportunity to help teachers successfully implement gamification into the classroom. Liz Kolb, a professor in Teaching Education at the University of Michigan, provides a list of vendors with web-based options for K-12 instructors that streamline game set-up, management and assessment including Gradecraft, 3D GameLab, Classcraft and Virtual Locker. Teachers can integrate badges (awarded as skills are mastered and also to keep students engaged) into the gaming software with vendors with online EdTech resources like Edmodo, Classbadges, Credly and Passport.

The Next Level Market Badge

Looking to the future of gamification, the number of opportunities for education and technology vendors is expected to increase. The overall market growth of gamification which includes K-12 education, is expected to reach $1.7 billion in 2015 and $5.5 billion in 2018.

Onvia’s Spending Forecast Center revealed that schools, like the Lewisville Independent School District in Texas, recognize that gamification helps develop STEM skills, provides teachers with opportunities to engage students through meaningful, varied assessments and allows students to work with problem solving, design thinking and digital media skills. The Lewisville agency plans to research and begin to build opportunities for gamification into electives and the core curriculum, according to its E-Rate Year 2016 Technology Plan.

Similarly, agencies like the City of Ft. Collins in Colorado, see that gamification taps into the generation that grew up with videogames and uses technology as a driver to develop technical and social skills, including problem solving, sharing and collaboration: Gamification provides motivation (higher incidence of self-driven learning), facilitates mastery by allowing mistakes which has the potential to develop higher-order thinking skills such as analysis, allows for consistent standards, and can provide laser-like focus on the topic learned, resulting in personalized learning. The Ft. Collins agency plans to encourage this technology trend for future initiatives, according to its Technology 2014-2018 Strategic Plan.

Additional examples of gamification in adopted school district plans include:

Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District in California
The Education Technology Plan for 7/2015-6/2018 includes professional development to increase gamification, badging and game-based learning opportunities in the classroom. The focus is on creating simulation opportunities and “addressing 21st century needs as requested by business and industry.” The plan explains that “gamification refers to the integration of gaming elements and frameworks into non-game situations, like the classroom, for training, learning and motivational purposes (e.g. the use of badges as steps to mastery).”

Richland School District Two in Texas
The Education Technology Plan for 2014-2017 includes a strategy to encourage innovative practices and the use of emerging technologies to transform teaching and learning. An “Innovation” group of two schools (with 12 teachers, two media specialists, four curriculum specialists and two technology and learning coaches) developed a plan to implement choice, teacher-led workshops, badging, gamification, time for practice and collaboration, coaching, and designated spaces for professional development. By the end of 2017, continual renewal of innovative systems to foster growth for innovative practices in the classroom will be implemented with an “Innovation Incubator” to help teachers with the resources, facilities and expertise needed to develop their innovative practice.

Gamification: Innovative Play Improves Students’ Learning Process

The global education gamification market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 64.34% over the period 2014-2019, according to the Global Education Gamification Market: Research Report 2015-2019. Vendors have an opportunity to improve K-12 education by providing gamification products, program implementation consulting and related services.

“Children are intelligent creatures that have the magnificent ability to absorb and adapt – more than adults can … By promoting gamification in the classroom … we have a unique opportunity to engage children and get them interested in learning through play. Children are usually keen to finish school, go home and play. Mixing play with learning means that we increase the chances that children will take learning into their own hands, and volunteer in the learning process.” Talent LMS

Vendors interested in learning more about projects and future plans that include gamification initiatives should keep a close eye on state, local and education procurement activity over the next several years. With an estimated growth in contract opportunities of nearly $4 billion, gamification projects are sure to multiply. In educational institutions, as well as in professional development training, this innovative teaching and learning technique can help boost 21st century skills required now and into the future.

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