The Gamification of Learning and Instruction: A book review by Bob Morris

GamificationThe Gamification of Learning and Instruction: Game-Based Methods and Strategies for Training and Education
Karl M. Kapp
Co-Published by Pfeiffer/A Wiley Imprint and ASTD (2012)

How and why the real value of the game-based mechanics “is to create meaningful learning experiences”

There are two key words in the title of my review, “how” and “why.” Karl Kapp thoroughly explores both in this first of two books that examine “game-based methods and strategies for training and education.” The second is a companion Fieldbook (published in 2014) in which Kapp and his co-authors, Lucas Blair and Rich Mesch, offer brilliant explanations of (a) why it is so important to focus on gaming, (b) “Basic Elements,” and (c) “Design Considerations” that must be addressed. They also provide worksheets, examples, samples, tables, and instructions that can help readers create their own ILEs (i.e. interactive learning experience). “This book can be used as a primer or introductory text to introduce the topic of designing instructional games, gamification, and simulation, but it is primarily designed as a practical fieldbook to help teams in the midst of creating games, gamification, and simulation projects.” The Fieldbook (“Ideas into Practice”) devotes more attention to “how” and less to “why.” Together, both books provide just about as much anyone needs to know in order to make a significance contribution to a rapidly expanding field of game-based training and education.

With regard to the earlier volume, I commend Kapp on brilliant use of 33 Figures (e.g. “Flow, the State Between Boredom and Anxiety”) and six Tables (e.g. “Meta-Analysis Studies of Game-Based Learning”) as well as three reader-friendly devices: “Chapter Questions” (heads up) at beginning of all chapters, “Implications and Importance to the Future of Learning and Instruction” (Chapters 1 and 2, only), and “Key Takeaways” at conclusion of all chapters. Thee devices help to facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of key material later.

As in the Fieldbook, this book features several special contributors; four of them provide a chapter (10-13) on a subject most relevant to their background, talents, and experience in game-based training and education. They and three other special contributors are certainly a diverse group and this is a key point: It correctly suggests that the limits to what can be accomplished with game-based training and education will probably be — as in almost all other human enterprises — self-imposed.

Kapp asks his reader to “think of the engaging elements of why people play games — it’s not just for the points — its sense of engagement, immediate feedback, feeling of accomplishment, and success of striving against a challenge and overcoming it.”

A personal note: These comments really hit home with me and my participation in scramble competition in golf for several decades. Four players comprise a team that competes against other teams. In terms of individual ability, each team has an A, B, C and D player. This is a game within a game with strict rules that are self-regulated. (There are reasons why FLOG spells GOLF backwards.) Lots of laughs amidst struggles to get a low score for the team. The “winners” play their best (such as it is) and have a great time.

Kapp explains, “This book has a heavy emphasis on creating games for learning and not incentivizing people through external rewards. The real value of the game-based mechanics is to create meaningful learning experiences.” They are:

o System (architecture of the game)
o Players
o Abstract (context of reality or “game space”)
o Challenge (achieve goals and outcomes)
o Rules (do’s and don’ts)
o Interactivity (between/among teammates and with opponent/s)
o Feedback (measurements of success, failure, and progress)
o Quantifiable Outcome (final “score” or result that is definitive)
o Emotional Reaction (“the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat,” etc.)

As Kapp points out, “Together these disparate elements combine to make an event [i.e. an interactive learning experience] that is larger than the individual elements. A player gets caught up in playing a game because the instant feedback and constant interaction are related to the challenge of the game, which is defined by the rules, which all work within the system to provoke an emotional reaction and, finally, result in a quantifiable outcome within an abstract version of a larger system [or reality].”

If I understand the meaning and significance of this paragraph (and I may not), Kapp is suggesting that a game can be a simulation of a reality or combination of realities, and, simultaneously, also be a reality or combination of realities. Playing Monopoly, for example, resembles trying to complete as series of transactions in real estate and enables competition that takes on a life of its own. Valuable lessons can be learned in either dimension. Often, valuable lessons are learned in several different dimensions.

To ways and an extent that a commentary such as mine cannot suggest, Karl Kapp provides just about all the information, insights, and counsel anyone needs in order to proceed to effective application of whatever material in this book is most relevant to the needs, interests, goals, resources, concerns, and strategic objectives of the given enterprise. I presume to add that applying any of the material in this book must (repeat MUST) be a collaborative effort that involves an organization’s best and brightest.

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