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Gamification of Learning: A New Hope ... or Marketing Hype?

Gamification of Learning: A New Hope ... or Marketing Hype?

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Wikipedia ( defines "gamification" as "the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems." Evidence of this trend is everywhere you look these days, in school and out. One recent, notable example is Goldie Blox (, a game designed expressly for girls that teaches engineering concepts. The brainchild of engineer Debbie Sterling, Goldie Blox was a huge success on Kickstarter ( and recently started shipping. (It also recently was caught up in a huge controversy surrounding one of its ads ( but that's a story for another post.

Most people I've spoken to about the Goldie Blox product say that they support the idea of encouraging girls to pursue engineering careers, but there is general disagreement that the "gamification" as demonstrated by Goldie Blox's approach is the right path or not. Kristin Perkins commented on the brouhaha, saying:

"While it is true that engineering toys exists they are specifically marketed to boys. Though there is nothing technically stopping girls from playing with those toys most don't just because they are associated with boys. Goldie Blox also plays on the well proven fact that girls tend to read while boys tend to build. This is just statistical(ly) accurate and Goldie Blox incorporates reading into the product making it more appealing to young girls."

So the question becomes: is "gamification" (as in this example) a new hope to reach a budding generation of learners? Put another way, is this kind of "marketing hype" a necessary evil in the materialistic, over-promotional, media-saturated world kids are growing up in?

What do you think, Edutopia reader?

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Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

On the surface, I kind of object to the coercion aspects of learning- because if an activity or book or project is interesting enough, you have a hard time pulling kids away, even without all the "fluffy" stuff added. Looking at learning as medicine that needs a spoonful of sugar to make it go down is certainly necessary sometimes, but if we all treat learning like some unpleasant chore we have to put up with rather than an exciting adventure, we're doomed at the start because our personal mindset is negative.

That said, you should design learning toys, projects, and lessons with the audience in mind. What would make this interesting and fun for kids, and for you as the teacher? I also think we should debrief kids after lessons and projects and look for ways to improve, kind of like product development, so it gets better each time out.

Goldie Blox is a great idea, but the books are oriented towards older kids who can read independently as I understand them, and the toy itself seems to appeal to younger kids, so there is a mismatch to begin with here, based on the basic sophistication of the average six year old these days, and that they are outgrowing imaginary play between 6 and 7, per Piaget.

There are lots of ways to gamify everything: Even flash cards (use the flash card apps on the iPad, with autoshuffle and the like) - but we have to remember the learning in flash cards takes place in two areas- one is constructing the cards in the first place, and the second with drill and test to enhance memory.

I like gamification as a concept, I just think we have to use it carefully and match it to the learner, otherwise kids are going to start to look at every "game" like eating their vegetables, and we'll have lost this tool too, by overusing it in the wrong circumstances.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

I love this idea- and the spectrum of ways it can play out. (See what I did there? "Play?" Heh.) I like both that students can level up via more traditional learning activities AND that gamification allows teachers to create learning experiences in the world of the game. (Critical Skills teachers call those scenario challenges). We just had a speaker at AUNE talking about his work with gamification in middle school- Larry Graykin. I've invited him to join the conversation here, but just in case he's unable to chime in, you can see his talk here:

Kristen Swanson's picture
Kristen Swanson
Teacher, Leader, Edcamper, Learner

As a female educator who does a bit of work with computer science and engineering teams, I DO think we need to reach out to women and make them feel more comfortable in STEM fields. Almost all of the teams with which I interface are completely male, and their social/communication patterns could certainly make some folks uncomfortable. So, I actually don't think it's the toys that will make the difference. I think it's a cultural shift in the work environment that's needed. ;-)

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

What's most interesting about this is that we have a 18+ year product cycle here, right? If we want more women in STEM fields, we have to help girls now so they are ready to take those jobs in the future, but that doesn't magically make more women in those fields now, or even five years from now. We probably won't see the outcome of the "Goldie Blox" type efforts for many years- it doesn't make the current crop of 18 yr olds more or less interested in STEM and technical colleges than they already are, although hearing about what a horrid environment it is may make some of them actually think twice... I think we have to look at a longer "development of talent" range than looking at short term fixes for long term, cultural and societal problems.

Kevin Jarrett's picture
Kevin Jarrett
Maker Educator, Google Certified Innovator, Dreamer, Doer. Learning experience designer, workshop leader/speaker, author. Stanford #Fablearn Fellow. #GoogleEI

Hey folks, a slight tangent here - check this out. A friend shared this on Facebook. Remember the "Wish Books" we would see every year around this time? Some blessed soul went and SCANNED and UPLOADED a ton of them to this website:

Anyway, as I was reliving my childhood growing up in the 70s, I was struck by how many of the pics included GIRLS as well as BOYS playing with what would normally be considered "male" toys and vice versa. Examples:

While there are plenty of pics in those catalogs showing traditional "gender assignments," It makes me wonder - were these advertisements actually better in this regard in the past than we realized? And, even better than today?

Enjoy your walk down memory lane, BTW...


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