Gamification is one of the current catch-phrases, but we really need new approaches to educational media for the current generation? No doubt about it, I usually find gamified learning fun, but maybe its not for every one, or every body of knowledge.

Gamification and cognitive style

Kate Hayles in On hyper and deep attention argues:

The shift in cognitive styles can be seen in the contrast between deep attention and hyper attention. Deep attention, the cognitive style traditionally associated with the humanities, is characterized by concentrating on a single object for long periods (say, a novel by Dickens), ignoring outside stimuli while so engaged, preferring a single information stream, and having a high tolerance for long focus times. Hyper attention, by contrast, is characterized by switching focus rapidly between different tasks, preferring multiple information streams, seeking a high level of stimulation, and having a low tolerance for boredom.

Ideally, I think, we want adults that can use both forms of attentiveness when they are appropriate. But the lament is that we’re losing the ‘deep’ to the ‘hyper’. Gamification is an approach to learning that supposedly privileges the ‘hyper’. What are the core features of a game? According to Gamification: Motivation and Engagement by ANDRZEJ:

  • it has rules
  • it has tasks
  • it has rewards
  • the tasks are fun – the fun of the challenge, the satisfaction of completing a level and being rewarded

I think, just maybe, a really good game will be rewarded with the user’s deep attention as well as her hyper-attention. Maybe there aren’t many good educational games about about, but there are definitely some. Simulations that replicate real-world scenarios, for example.


At the end of the day this all boils down to one thing. Motivation. If a person is motivated, they will be more productive. Most motivation is negative. You are motivated to do your job because you need the money and don’t want to get fired. Gamification gives you the opportunity to motivate people in a much more positive way. Imagine a group of workers who are competing to be the best at even the most mundane of tasks, just because at the end of the month they may get to put a trophy on their desk. Happy workers leads to increased productivity and retention.

Look, I don’t know about trophies and prizes; I think becoming the ‘mayor’ etcetera has got to lose it’s appeal if you’re older than about 16. But we do like to get instant feedback on how good we are at something. We also like to know where we are (both in terms of how far through and how good we are) in any learning situation. It’s the instant feedback part of gamification that makes me think it works. If you can tie the instant feedback to assessment, you’ve got yourself a really transparent system.

Some argue that you can’t do explorative, project-based, student-centered learning in a gamified assessment structure. Of course you can. It’s just a matter of how you set up the tasks. One of the strengths of this way of setting up learning environments is that its so easy to have ‘levels’ in which student sophistication can be increasingly challenged.

{The gamification of education by Knewton and Column Five Media, and derived from MIT’s paper “Moving Learning Games Forward“}