Gamification for children: How to avoid design mistakes
Guest Article by: Dasha Sokolova
There’s no doubt that children and adults learn in various ways. This distinction lies not only in what we learn at different age levels, but also how we do it. Today, both adults and children are often engaged in studies through game-based learning and gamification mechanics such as points, leaderboards, progression, and others. Read this article to learn how to adapt gamification to younger minds.
Let them “play,” but not game
Rewards in gamification are supposed to be an engine of personal progress. The more meaningful digital rewards are for students, the harder they try to get them. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean they actually try to study harder – instead, many prefer to get unmerited rewards by gaming the system.
Children’s inner creativity makes them particularly predisposed to gaming. When a child doesn’t succeed at playing by the rules, he will try to find a way around them. This is especially true when using extrinsic motivation in gamification: if a child is doing math exercises only to get Pokemon badges, it’s highly improbable he would stick with the math if badges could be collected for free.
Here are a few possible solutions for this situation:
- Brainstorm for any possible ways to bend the rules in your gamified course
- Use intrinsic motivation (e.g., set up achievable targets and adaptive levels to give children a sense of pride about their progress)
Michael Wu, Ph.D., a Chief Scientist at Lithium Technologies, studied the problem of cheating in gamification and came to a conclusion that there’s no sure-fire way to prevent gamification from being gamed. Rather than trying to create a bullet-proof system, Michael proposed two ways to persuade players from cheating:
- Decrease the perceived value of the reward
- Increase the effort required to game the system
You can learn about these solutions in the article, (Relatively) Cheat Resistant Rewards and Metrics for Gamification.
At an early age, we greatly rely on guidance, whether it comes from teachers, parents or other people whom we take as authorities. Children usually expect feedback for any action they perform as a road map for their future actions. While traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms make it difficult for teachers to provide feedback for all students, interactive online courses can supply this defect.
One of the most familiar forms of feedback for children is grades. In gamification, you can transform the grading system into a continuous progress with level-ups displayed on a progress bar. This visualization will help children understand they are always moving forward, as opposed to getting bad grades at schools that may make them think they are regressing.
Try providing as much real-time feedback as you can by evaluating actual results, time spent on a task, the number of attempts, and other activities. This way a child will have the feeling he’s constantly being guided and supported. At the same time, don’t overpraise a child, as this often does more harm than good.
In one of the most popular TED Talks, author and educator Ken Robinson says that kids are inherently creative and are not afraid of being wrong, but they lose this capacity with time through being repeatedly penalized for mistakes. What does this mean for gamification? Simply make sure that if children make mistakes, they have a possibility to retake an action without losing (too many) points. This is especially important when using leaderboards, as children may get ashamed of making others aware of their mistakes.
If you’re creating a quiz, it’s a good idea to provide children with multiple attempts both for the whole quiz and certain questions. Flexible settings such as multiple attempts, personalized feedback depending on the answer choice, and others are available in the most popular e-Learning test makers. For example, you can enable multiple attempts for a difficult question with many possible answers, but for obvious reasons there’s no need to allow a second try for a True or False question.
Children’s attention span is shorter than that of adults. This means that gamification mechanics that work well with adults may not be enough to hold a child’s interest, especially for a long period of time.
Here are a few ideas on how to solve this:
- Add elements of surprise and uncertainty. Introduce new unexpected rewards, levels, and others.
- Include social interactions, as children are greatly motivated by competing and collaborating with their peers. Not once have I seen kids calling their friends in order to take a game-based learning activity online simultaneously.
- Make rewards meaningful. While they already are for adults as a means of measurement of their achievements, children are more motivated by digital currency that can be used (e.g., to buy puzzle parts or unlock additional activities). Making points fun is particularly important in gamification because unlike game-based learning, it doesn’t imply playing.
- Once again, include intrinsic factors, such as a sense of pride, belonging to a bigger group, autonomy, etc. This way, gamification doesn’t only create a fun experience that motivates children to learn (through extrinsic motivation), but also turns learning into a fun experience (through intrinsic motivation).
These are just some insights on how to adapt gamification to children’s learning. Many of them have been inspired by observing kids learning through games and gamified content. After you’ve created a gamified course, it’s wise giving it to students and seeing if it provides them with the right motivation.