The source/history of the approach
After the storm of gaming, gamification came into existence first in the world of marketing. It was noticed that using game elements in a non-game context enhances participation and engagement which can be beneficial for the business. To give an example, gamifying areas of health and fitness with apps that measure our achievements and give us points and badges took things to the next level and became a multibillion-dollar industry in short time. It is similar to daily life activities that we all do and where we all get a taste of gamification. In supermarkets, you get the loyalty card where you earn points for your shopping, if you shop more → you get more points→ you get bigger discount→ you shop more → you get more points … it is a circle in which more parties win.
Coming back to the games themselves. In the beginning, the consumers of the games were mostly children, as the market of games bombarded them (and their parents) with new games to buy and play. At the same time parents, school and teachers care that their children are mostly occupied by education and learning. Adding one to another, formal educators started to wonder how to use some of the game elements. Could gamification be used in education to enhance learning and motivate learners?
Looking at non-formal educational contexts, gamification is something we (trainers, facilitators, youth workers) use often, without realising it. How come?
The aims of the methodology
Let’s look back at the classic definition of gamification and its aims. As noted, gamification is using game elements in non-game contexts and it can help to increase participation and engagement. Besides game elements, gamification could also mean the use of game design or/and mechanics. Basically, using anything from games in different contexts to help us transform a ‘boring experience’ into one that is more immersive and fun!
Let’s take a closer look at what the game elements are:
- Challenges (mapping to learning objectives).
- Levels (learning path).
- Instant feedback (supporting progress).
- Scores or Points (imparting a sense of accomplishment and gratification).
- Badges (acknowledging significant
- Leaderboards (used for analytics).
- Competition (assessing where the learner stands compared to their peers).
- Collaboration (used when multiple teams play).
For sure while reading the elements you can remember your favourite games and the elements they had. To create a gamified experience you do not need to use them all. You can just use some of them depending on the context and your preferences as a player. This particular methodology of gamification and its use in education comes both ways – it is extremely enjoyable for both the creator and the user. So cool, right?
The structure of the methodology
Now having the power of knowledge on what gamification is, you are not supposed to run immediately to implement it. Educators know that it takes some time to create and plan any learning experience and it is the same here. You should follow a few steps that will lead you from the idea to the final product.
So let’s start:
Before you even start drafting the ideas just ask yourself: Why to gamify? What is my interest in it? What are the needs behind it? Is it because I love playing? Is it because I would like to make a change in the activities I run?
Get to know the players. Who are they? Are they students in your class? Or maybe volunteers in your organisation? Who are they? What do they do? What do they like? Knowing the players is the first step in designing the experience.
Define the objectives. What do you want to achieve by using gamification? Would you like to motivate your volunteers to carry out their weekly tasks more efficiently? Or maybe you would like to motivate your students to learn a poem for the school academy? Be as specific as you can in planning your objectives.
Design the experience. You know who the experience is for and you know what its objectives are. Now this part can take a while. Take time to think of about:
- Where the experience will take place
- How long it should take
- Which gamified elements you want to use
- What materials you need for it
Plan everything and make it coherent taking time for gamified experience and also for analysing or debriefing on it.
Test. Anything new needs to be run as a pilot first. Test your experience with your players in a safe environment. To be clear – the first time you do it, it’s ok if things don’t work out. That is the point! After testing, get some feedback and ideas for improvement.
Improve it and run it again and again and yet again. You’ve reached the final destination! You have run your experience; you have seen what worked and what didn’t. Take some time to improve it, change it, adapt it and do it again. Think how amazing it will be having this perfect experience that you can use and adapt for different groups and environments!
The possible benefits of applying it to the field of youth work
We can imagine that while reading this , youth workers or youth leaders have plenty of ideas how to use gamification in youth work and what the benefits of it could be. However, let’s take some time to emphasize it even more. We know how play and creativity is important in youth work and non formal education. We have already seen how using a simple card game with different elements can motivate our youth to start talking and sharing on different topics.
Through gamification, we have in our hands the very simple and basic steps and elements we can use to improve learning experiences in youth work. Games can be”fun” for the learner, yet significantly improve the learning. In other words, players (learners) can have “fun” as they progress through the game, and yet will get to experience “learning” when they’re absorbed in the game-play (Indusgeeks).
Aspects to take into consideration when using this approach in youth work
There are few aspects that we should remember while playing with gamification. We should never forget that gamified experience is a key to learning. Let’s keep in mind that as fun as it is to look for the key, it is even better to open the door and see what the point of that game is.
While taking time preparing your experience and implementing it, do count the time you need for analysing and debriefing. Debriefing is a crucial part of educational gamified activities. You should not facilitate a gamified activity without debriefing it. During the debriefing time, participants can understand the learning points and have their ‘aha moments’ of the experience.
For your activity, follow the experiential learning stages according to the Kolb cycle.
For the debriefing itself, remember at the beginning to vent the feelings, asking how the experience was. Then move to the process and ask what happened, what the task was. Then, go to the learning and ask for the findings and conclusions and be ready to finish with future and applications by asking how the experience was connected with the real life and what the possible applications are. Simple? Simple!
Possible combinations with other methodologies
The beauty of gamification is that it can be used as a ‘template’ for any other methodology and method or
a tool. Any activity can be facilitated with the principles of gamification but with the content of another method. This is what we hope you take away from this guide: use gamification for something you already do! Think of it as an extra layer on the cake. You can stop for a while and remember what tasks you do a lot as educator, youth worker, or trainer. Maybe you have already run sessions on Youthpass many times and you would like to change, innovate,
and spice the activity up? Perfect then, go back to the elements and steps and start planning it, testing and
making it happen!
Examples of the methodology being applied in youth work, in different contexts
- Open Badges – other chapter in our Toolbox
- ActionBound – other chapter in our Toolbox
- Mission Impossible – other chapter in our Toolbox
- LARP – Live Action Roley Playing Games – podcast with Patrycja Paula Gas
- Educational Escape Rooms – podcast with Gabi Steinprinz and other chapter in our Toolbox
- Board Games – podcast with Sérgio Gonçalves
- Esports and videogames – podcast with Jan Lai
- Game based learning – podcast with Stephan Schölzel
- Game based Learning – website with concrete examples of games made by the team of project Playversity. Main creators are Be International (Czech Republic), Ticket2Europe (Spain) and Shokkin Group (Estonia).
The methodological description is based on the text produced by Olga Kuczynska. Developing Youth Work Innovation. E-handbook. Project Future Labs. Erasmus+, KA2, 2019. Publication of Humak University of Applied Sciences, page 58. Updated by Lenka Polcerová, ANEV, 2023.