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Gamification Theories

Gamification Theories

Author: Jody Waltman

In this lesson, you will learn about the theories and research supporting gamification as a classroom instructional strategy

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In this tutorial, we'll learn about some of the theories that have helped shape the design of gamification, also called video game theory or just game theory. We'll examine four different theories. Behaviorism, cognitivism, humanism, and constructivism. Our review of these four theories will help to shape our study of gamification.

Let's begin with an overview of behaviorism. Behaviorism is the theory that students learn from a stimulus and response pattern. Many of us are familiar with the story of Pavlov's dogs.

In this experiment, Pavlov rang a bell in conjunction with placement of food in front of his dogs. Eventually, the dogs learned to associate the stimulus of the bell ringing with the arrival of their food. As a result, the stimulus of ringing a bell led to a response of the dogs beginning to salivate even without the food being set before them.

There are three main assumptions in behaviorism. First, that learning can be observed through a change in behavior as with the dogs beginning to salivate as a result of hearing the bell ring. Next, that behavior is shaped by the environment. And finally, that learning requires repetition and reinforcement.

Three distinct learning principles or theories are also associated with behaviorism. First is the idea of direct instruction that asserts that well-designed curriculum and research based instruction should create an environment in which all students have the capacity to learn. Next is programmed instruction, or the implementation of self teaching using a specially designed book, programmed curriculum, or computer software in order to facilitate one's own learning. And finally, social learning theory, or the idea that people learn by watching or observing one another and by imitating and modeling our own behavior after the behaviors of those around us.

Another theory that shaped the development of gamification is cognitivism. Cognitivism is the idea that learning requires thinking. There are two assumptions in cognitivism. First, that students process information and learning through an active memory system. And second, that learning relies on prior knowledge.

Several learning principles and theories are associated with cognitivism. Attribution theory states that learning is based on the following four attributes, effort, luck, ability, and task difficulty. Next, elaboration theory, which places emphasis on design of instruction that organizes content from simple to more complex and teaches content in meaningful contexts.

And the stage theory of cognitive development. The stage theory of cognitive development outlines four stages of learning which progress from a needs-based stage to more concrete learning to the more complex ability to contextualize information and make meaning out of new knowledge. Finally, the theory of conditioned learning, which also outlines stages of learning, but in a different manner.

Let's take a closer look at two of these theories, stage theory and the theory of conditioned learning. First, stage theory of cognitive development. The four stages of learning outlined in this theory include sensory motor stage, which occurs from birth to two years of age. Pre-operational stage, occurring from two to seven years of age. The concrete operational stage, from seven to 11 or 12 years of age. And finally, the formal operation stage from 11 years of age to 16 years and beyond.

In contrast let's look at the theory of conditioned learning. This theory also outlines stages of learning, but rather than these stages being organized by age of the learner, they instead outline the process for learning information at any age. The steps move from simple to more complex, beginning with a simple recognition of stimulus followed by the generation of response, the ability to follow procedures, the appropriate use of terminology, discrimination among ideas or objects, the formation of new concepts, the application of rules to those concepts, and finally, problem solving.

In the theory of conditioned learning, it is emphasized that practice is required for learning or cognition to take place. This theory also includes nine considerations that are closely related to the idea of gamification. First, gaining attention, or reception. Second, informing learners of objectives, or expectancy.

Third, stimulating recall of prior learning, or retrieval. Fourth, presenting of a stimulus, or selective perception. Five, providing learning guidance, or semantic encoding. Six, eliciting performance, or responding.

Seven, providing feedback, reinforcement. Eight, assessing performance or retrieval. And nine, enhancing retention or transfer, or generalization.

Next, let's look at an overview of humanism. Humanism is a theory that focuses on the freedom, value, dignity, and potential of all learners. In humanist theory, learning should be personalized and centered on the student. The teacher should act as facilitator, placing an emphasis on affective and cognitive needs of the students.

This theory asserts that a supportive and cooperative learning environment fosters self-actualized students. Experiential learning theory outlines a four stage cycle of learning. In this theory, a learner can start at any stage, but then must follow the next stages in order. These stages include a concrete experience, or doing. A reflective observation, or observing. Abstract conceptualization, or thinking. And active experimentation, or planning.

Finally, constructivism. Constructivism is a theory that states that learning is an active and constructive process. The learner constructs information that builds on his or her prior knowledge and experiences. A constructivist theory of instruction should address these four major aspects. A predisposition towards learning, knowledge that is structured in order to be easily grasped by learners, concepts presented in an effective sequence utilizing a spiral organization, and appropriate use of rewards and punishments.

Both the nature and pacing of these rewards and punishments should be considered. In a constructivist environment, the teacher transforms the information in order to meet the diverse needs of students. The teacher should engage in active and meaningful dialogue with students, and should lead them to discover principles by themselves. From key aspect number three, the teacher should utilize a spiral organization to make it easier for students who are continually building knowledge upon what they have already learned.

In this tutorial, we explored four theories that have contributed to the development of gamification. Behaviorism, cognitivism, humanism, and constructivism. Keep these theories in mind as we learn more about the topic of gamification.

Now it's your turn to stop and reflect. Are you already well versed with one or more of these learning theories? Can you already see some of the connections between these theories and gamification? To dive a little deeper and learn how to apply this information, be sure to check out the additional resources section associated with this video. This is where you'll find links targeted toward helping you discover more ways to apply this course material. Thanks for watching. Have a great day.

Notes on "Gamification Theories"

(00:00 - 00:25) Introduction

(00:26 - 02:07) Behaviorism

(02:08 - 03:31) Cognitivism

(03:32 - 04:01) Stage Theory of Cognitive Development

(04:02 - 05:39) Theory of Conditioned Learning

(05:40 - 06:39) Humanism

(06:40 - 07:48) Constructivism

(07:49 - 08:03) Review

(08:04 - 08:34) Stop and Reflect

Additional Resources

Gamification Infographic

This is a helpful resource from Knewton that explains gamification in the form of an infographic.

A User-Centered Theoretical Framework for Meaningful Gamification 

This report by Scott Nicholson offers a framework to use in designing gamification experiences in the classroom that are student centered. The framework includes student motivation and universal design as integral components.

Two Paths to Motivation through Game Design Elements: Reward-Based Gamification and Meaningful Gamification

Although only an abstract, this provides a very useful take on gamification.

Using Moodle to differentiate instruction

This article explores how to use Moodle to differentiate instruction around student resources and activities. The list of ideas provides practical suggestions and how-to steps for teachers who use Moodle as their platform to gamify their instruction. In fact, many of the suggestions can be used across a variety of LMS platforms.