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Engaging Kids in Learning: game based learning and gamification in education


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Talk at Digital Kids Edu about engaging kids in learning using various forms of games: open ended play, game based learning and gamification

By Pierre Le Lann Co General Manager and Co founder, Tribal Nova, a Houghton Mifflin Harcourt company

Engaging Kids in Learning: game based learning and gamification in education

  1. 1. Digital Kids Educa Sept 18, 2013 Engaging kids in learning Game Based Learning and Gamification in Education
  2. 2. The Goal “I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create ... educational software that is as compelling as the best video game. I want you guys to be stuck on a video game that's teaching you something other than just blowing something up." President Barack Obama There is a lot of buzz these days about how games can help solve education’s problems. So it is interesting to see the educational community and the gaming community come together.
  3. 3. I think where games can contribute the most is in engaging kids. In the past 10 years especially, games have become very refined at engaging kids and adults alike in learning new skills whereas school has barely changed. For kids, the gap is widening between their home life, which is filled with exciting and challenging games, and school, that is seen as boring and demotivating.
  4. 4. PB As a result kids’ motivation is down. Dropout rates have increased. And the effect is even bigger on boys. In this interesting TEDtalk by Ali Carr-Chellman, we see that boys are 2 to 4 times more likely than girls to have learning disabilities, be suspended, expelled, or be diagnosed with adhd.
  5. 5. Teaming up game designers and educational experts is a great idea, but we have a lot of sharing to do if we want to build great educational games together. I come from the children gaming world. So by looking at this chart of learning theories, you can tell I have quite a bit of reading to do. Since today we are particularly interested in kids’ engagement and motivation to learn, I would like to zoom in on three.
  6. 6. Jean Piaget Constructivism Since I am not a learning theory expert, allow me to oversimplify. At one end of the spectrum, you have Piaget and constructivism in which the child actively builds his own knowledge without instructions and is self motivated.
  7. 7. Jean Piaget Constructivism B. F . Skinner Behaviorism At the other end, you have Skinner, famous for his skinner box experiments and behaviorist theory in which the child learns what he is told to learn and motivation comes essentially from external stimuli, rewards and punishment.
  8. 8. Jean Piaget Constructivism Benjamin Bloom B. F . Skinner Mastery Learning Behaviorism Benjamin Bloom is closer to behaviorism but introduced the notion of mastery learning. Learning broken down into steps acquired one after another to form a personalized learning path. This approach is found in many games so I thought it would be interesting to add it to the mix
  9. 9. Open ended play Constructivism Game based learning Gamification Mastery Learning Behaviorism These different ways of learning and being motivated to learn correspond in my mind to three ways to use games in education: open ended play, game based learning, and gamification
  10. 10. Open Play Gamification There is a common opinion that open ended play is wonderful for kids, and gamification is often seen as motivating kids through shallow rewards and as bad. I would like to make the case that gamification done right is useful and that all three forms of games are needed if we want to fully address school needs.
  11. 11. It is undeniable that constructivism and open play are a wonderful form of learning, whether it is inventing stories,
  12. 12. Designing clothes,
  13. 13. … or pretty much creating anything as long as it is made of pixelized cubes! I am a big fan of constructivism and open play. There is something magical about a child being self motivated and enjoying learning for the sheer pleasure of learning.
  14. 14. But it is probably not the ideal route if you are trying to get your kids to brush their teeth or learn multiplication tables, which are things that are very defined and do not get kids very excited.
  15. 15. Also, open ended play games are usually more difficult to integrate because their use spans over several weeks and they request a lot more work to manage. As a result, only a small percentage of teachers feel comfortable enough to use them.
  16. 16. And the reality is that our school system is not montessori and relies heavily on standardized instruction and assessment. I am not bold enough to think I can change the school system, therefore I would rather focus on using games to make it more engaging.
  17. 17. “Fun from games arises out of mastery. It arises out of comprehension. It is the act of solving puzzles that makes games fun. With Games learning is the drug.” Raph Coster. A theory of Game design Raph Coster made a brilliant analysis of what makes games fun and Sebastian Deterding added a lot to the discussion (see Sebastian Deterding’s deck, in references, for more details). Before we get into more details, I would like to propose that our ideal goal should not be to create a fun experience to motivate kids to learn, but rather to create an optimal experience of learning so learning in a school environment becomes fun. To do this, games or gamified systems should be seen as only one piece of the puzzle along with other elements such as adaptive leveling systems in core learning activities or teacher’s professional development to use these new systems.
  18. 18. Game Based Learning An exciting way to do this is through game based learning. I define this as designing a game to teach a specific subject matter or standard. They are easier to use in school because they can be correlated to learning objectives that are in the program. They are also easier because we can design both the learning and the engaging components of the experience.
  19. 19. And it looks like they actually work. We just got results of our first efficiacy study on PBS Kids Play. The study shows over 40% improvement in reading vocabulary with kids who played our literacy and language development games for only 30 minutes per month over 5 months compared to the control group.
  20. 20. A lot of learning games in the app store fall in this game based learning category with more or less rigor in the educational expertise involved in the making. The majority of these games are following the mastery learning theory without actually knowing it. We are even seeing more and more learning games adopting the very sequential approach of chapters and levels made popular by angry birds or cut the rope.
  21. 21. • • • • • • • Game Based Learning Key Elements Fun gameplay Exciting scaffolded challenges Well calibrated difficulty and pacing Positive reinforcement Feedback on progress Surprise, uncertainty Badges, rewards , level ups These learning games tend to be small units and are engaging because they integrate a number of classic game design principles. Not enough time to go through all of them but I do want to talk about 3 that are particularly relevant to educational games.
  22. 22. First, badges and rewards are a nice way to show kids they are progressing but they are not essential in these types of games. Well designed games are inherently engaging and poorly designed ones cannot be saved by rewards.
  23. 23. Second, we believe games are much more efficient at teaching a subject if the gameplay is inherently designed for that subject. This game was designed specifically to teach sentence formation. Dragon Box or Fractions by Motion Math are also perfect examples.
  24. 24. Whereas this gameplay can be used to teach colors, numbers, nouns, etc. , the gameplay is not reinforcing the learning.
  25. 25. The third key design element is to build games with adaptive leveling, which is adjusting the difficulty, ideally up or down and in real time, based on the child’s success rate. By making sure kids constantly play at a level that is challenging for them, we ensure optimal learning and optimal engagement. With adaptive leveling, games are also delivering on the promise of individualized learning.
  26. 26. So we are big fans of game based learning and have developed many of these types of games. I doubt it can address all of school needs though for the following reasons: The higher in grades we go, the more challenging it becomes to design a game that accurately teaches the subject AND is truly fun. ABCs are easy. Try making a fun game that teaches this grade 12 skill.
  27. 27. $ The other challenge is that creating games that truly teach is expensive. Need to involve educational experts, spend a lot more time designing the game, test, measure results, etc. Let us assume on average it costs 15 K per game supposing you could reuse a lot of elements. Now there are 1300 items in the common core.
  28. 28. $20 000 000 We are talking about an investment around $ 20 million if we want to develop a game for each standard. And this is to address just math and language arts. Schools need to cover a full k -12 curriculum. There may 200,000 kids games in the app store that claim they are educational, but the reality is they cover only a fraction of the subjects that need to be addressed. Whereas on the other hand there is a tremendous amount of teaching material covering every single standard, with results backed by large efficiency studies that educational publishers invested hundreds of millions of dollars to create. This material just has one small problem…
  29. 29. … it is not fun !
  30. 30. Gamification Enter gamification. Gamification means building a game system or meta game around non game content, in our case educational content.
  31. 31. > The debate around gamification is rather intense mostly because people see gamification as a bunch of extrinsic motivation gimmicks such as badges and rewards and the debate becomes about intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation psychology. And there is a lot of psychology research showing extrinsic factors having a negative impact on motivation and quality of work.
  32. 32. + I have a different opinion because I think extrinsic motivation is not so bad. It is pretty useful to motivate kids to do dry things like drills, multiplication tables, etc. But more importantly because I believe that gamification done right includes both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation factors. Also it is not always a such a clear line. Badges are extrinsic but if they help a kid build self-confidence and get him accepted in a group, it becomes intrinsic.
  33. 33. Gamification Key Elements Extrinsic • • • • • • • • • Goals & real challenges Well calibrated difficulty & pacing Continuous progress & level ups Positive reinforcement Feedback on progress Points and use of points Badges & rewards Surprise & uncertainty Social status, leaderboards, reputation systems There are a number of core game design elements that are the reasons why games are successful at engaging kids. You can find these in pretty much all types of successful games.
  34. 34. Continuous Progress The first is continuous progress. In school, because the grading system is broken down per test, session, subject, a student may get an A on one test and a C on the next. It feels like he is regressing whereas in reality his overall knowledge keeps progressing all year long. In a gamification system a simple way to motivate students is to show continuous progress through levels or even better an XP bar always present, that constantly increases with all tasks.
  35. 35. Level ups Also the brain is hardwired to want to level up the minute it sees a progress bar and levels.
  36. 36. Use of Points Another key motivation factor is the use of points. Grades and scores are points but they are not motivating because you cannot do anything with them. So it is good to reward progress with points or currency but what really matters is what you can do with these. Whether it is buying cool fashion or creating your own places…
  37. 37. Use of Points …or buying car parts in Umigo which is a DOE funded project we developed for increasing math proficiency in kids 6-8. Kids use the currency to buy parts to create cars that race better depending on car parts and the type of terrains. What will get kids excited varies a lot based on age and gender. But the use of points is even more crucial in gamifying educational material because there is no core game so the use of points is the game.
  38. 38. Surprise Fun and excitement also come from an element of surprise. It is important that kids are not always sure of what they will get. In Math bingo, kids never know which bug they are going to receive. I swear I saw my kids fight over the iPad to do multiplications just to get these rare bugs. In World of Warcraft or Wizard 101, a key driver is the loot with a small random chance of getting rare items.
  39. 39. Goals/ challenges Providing goals and real challenges is one of the core driver of games. Interest over time is increased by proposing several challenges of various types to appeal to different users, mixing short, medium and long term goals, scaffolding and requiring the use of new more advanced skills over time.
  40. 40. Feedback on progress From training for a marathon to losing weight to financial goals, progress feedback ready to digest has a big impact on motivation. We need to go beyond a scorecard confined in a section and push real time feedback as part of the overall experience in the form of widgets for example (see preceding slide).
  41. 41. Rewards Like it or not, apart from a few activities such as art, the human brain is wired to optimize and we often take into account an outcome or rewards when deciding to do a task. Rewards can be very simple and still motivating because people value different things. In this case, I have seen kids doing quizzes for hours to get pieces and complete a simple avatar.
  42. 42. Status /social Status and social interactions with peers is a also a big motivation, whether competing (leaderboard), collaborating (team missions or co farming ), showing off (social), or helping others (forum).
  43. 43. Gamification Key Elements Intrinsic • • • • Mastery Meaning Autonomy Belonging I have seen these extrinsic factors work with kids over and over. What I have noticed though is that in themselves they are not sufficient to hold the child’s interest over a long period of time. And the less exciting the core game is, the shorter the effect. Given that our core activity is pretty dry, we really need to work on intrinsic factors to hold their interest.
  44. 44. Mastery First is the sense of pride, of feeling like you are really mastering a subject, that you are good in math or you are smart.
  45. 45. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi - Flow: the psychology of optimal experience This is a inner feeling but we can work on many factors to nurture this sentiment such as using adaptive leveling to ensure a flow experience, using badges selectively to reinforce self-esteem and choosing the right tone to avoid the nerd stigma.
  46. 46. Meaning Another game changer is when a kid cares about the game because it is meaningful to him or her.
  47. 47. Storytelling Projectile Trajectory vs This comes largely from storytelling. It is a lot more exciting to save the world or rescue the birds’ eggs from the evil pigs than just throw a rock on a target.
  48. 48. Personal goals But things like allowing students to set up their own goals can also make the experience much more meaningful. A 90% score may not be motivating to certain students because they know they cannot achieve it, but setting up a 80% goal can be.
  49. 49. Common goals Community goals Being part of a project bigger than ourselves can bring a lot of meaning to a task. I am sure you have seen the energy of students washing cars to fundraise for their team (now try to get your kid to wash your car alone to see the difference). Enrolling the teacher into setting up a common goal for the class and involving students in choosing the goal and reward can build up a lot of motivation.
  50. 50. Real World impact Including a element that has an impact on the real world can also make a gamification system more meaningful. In this case, we developed a financial literacy program for a bank and kids donate points that affect how much money the bank gives away to various charities.
  51. 51. Autonomy Giving kids as much autonomy as possible is one of the best ways to increase their engagement. There are two important design elements to do this.
  52. 52. Meaning Choice The first is choice. Work is something a student is forced to do while play is something a student chooses to do even though they can be very similar tasks. Math bingo is essentially an addition or multiplication work sheet but kids choose to play with it. The more choice we can give to kids; which task they want to tackle, how they want to structure their time, etc; the better
  53. 53. Self expression Self expression is also extremely powerful at building a sense of autonomy. It does not have to be as extreme as we did in Woozworld. In Woozworld, kids use points to create the entire world to their liking from schools, hospitals, clubs, and even wedding chapels. So far, they have created 25 million places in the world.
  54. 54. Self expression It can be as simple as decorating your space and creating wacky looking cars. Self expression varies a lot based on age and gender.
  55. 55. Belonging Finally, probably one of the most important intrinsic motivation factors that govern life of tweens and teens is belonging to a group, having friends. This drives so many of the decisions they make every day.
  56. 56. So, I have a dream. What if we could make being good in school a cool thing. I have watched kids interact in Woozworld for hours and the popular kids in Woozworld are not necessarily popular in real life. They are super cool in Woozworld because their parents spent real dollars to get the hard currency that let them buy all the cool things. It is actually sad how the other kids suck up to them . So imagine if progressing in math or helping other classmates could get you the hard currency and all the cool things that you can do with it. If it increases their cool factor, I bet this will get a lot of kids motivated. This is also a chance to promote new positive values.
  57. 57. Currency is a great tool but badges, rewards, levels and special privileges are all extrinsic elements that can build up a sense of belonging. In Wizard 101, kids constantly ask high level wizards to friend them because they look cool but also because of all the powers and privileges that they have accumulated and can share with friends. They do not even start a dialogue. The minute they spot a high level wizard in a place they ask him. I bet a lot of these high level wizards are considered nerds in their school but in Wizard 101, they are almighty.
  58. 58. Coolness among tweens and teens is a very subtle thing to master. It is the sum of many design elements that in the end affect how kids perceive the game and the other kids playing it. For this age group, the group dynamics have a very big influence on making the meta game fun or lame.
  59. 59. Now there are significant challenges to making gamification work in education. We need to create a metagame that appeals to both boys and girls, which is more and more challenging as they grow up . We need to make a game that keeps their interest over a long period of time, probably several years!
  60. 60. But fundamentally, our biggest challenge is that contrary to a game, the core activity is something students are forced to do, not choose to do. Also, we are limited in how much we can modify the core activity to create an optimal learning experience such as giving students more choice or integrating adaptive leveling for example.
  61. 61. Another fundamental difference with games is that the core element of what makes play playful is the lack of consequences. Games are great places to try things out, whereas, in education, scores, grades have real consequences that will alter the mindset of kids engaging in the meta games we design.
  62. 62. And finally there are mixed feelings in the teacher community about games. We need teachers to play along by allowing students to spend time playing with the meta games ideally in rest periods such as recess or free time or otherwise at home. These make designing gamification systems a much bigger challenge than designing educational games.
  63. 63. What works in our favor is that kids are in school, with limited entertainment options and any sort of game will always be more exciting than a worksheet.
  64. 64. I truly believe that if we managed to engage kids to the point of nagging their parents to spend real dollars in Woozworld, we can engage them into doing school work. And if we engage kids into learning, then we can truly make a difference.
  65. 65. Thank You ! Pierre Le Lann
  66. 66. References I invite you to check out these videos and this slideshare presentation to dig deeper into this.