8 Elements to make learning effective

With game-thinking increasing in popularity we want to delve into the elements that make learning fun and effective. These elements were originally proposed by Karl Kapp (2016) and show how games relate to and illicit each of these elements.

According to Karl Kapp, there are eight gaming elements which can be included in a learning programme or user experience. These increase a person’s enjoyment and ability to learn new content, pick up new skills, and update their mental model.

Game-based learning is effective because the game elements used, naturally draw a person’s attention to the task. The attentiveness to game play then extends to the learning content of the game, so we have people learning without fully realising it.

Games elicit a range of emotions – frustration, elation, sadness, anger, and happiness. By putting the critical element of emotion back into learning, people are quite adept at recalling learning when learning is tied to strong emotions. This is the basis of why narrative and storytelling are so effective in learning programs.
In a game, a player could lose a life or be required to start over because of a wrong move. When people believe something is at risk, they pay closer attention, focus their energy, and are engaged with the task at hand. This risk and friendly competition in a game increase focus and, therefore, learning retention.
Mystery pique’s learners’ curiosity – use it to draw them in and encourage them to explore content from several angles. Games can direct learners to use deductive reasoning to engage with learning content and use collective knowledge sharing to complete tasks.
Involve the learners immediately in the learning process – don’t have them read content for the first few minutes. Action and interactivity engage learners, and increases interactivity, therefore opening communication.
Learning modules need to start with a challenge – something that is difficult requires deep thinking, and cannot be achieved by guessing. This links to the theory of flow whereby the challenge of the activity needs to be slightly above the participant's skill level in order to keep engagement and prevent boredom.
Add an element of chance to the learning process. Have learners bet on the confidence of an answer or give them a 50/50 opportunity to get an easy or hard question. Uncertainty adds suspense or intrigue and focuses learners’ attention on the task at hand. This also allows participants of varying skill levels to be active in the game and not disengage.
People like to have a sense of mastery. They like to know that they know the content. Give them a chance to apply their newly learned content; ask it in different ways and see if they can express their own knowledge. Games are a great way to test application as it lends itself to the scenario and role-play activities.
Throughout the module give learners a visible sign of moving through the content, such as a badge when they achieve a learning objective. Don’t leave progress reports until the end. Include them often within the instruction. Games allow visual progress to be woven into the narrative. World levels, task badges, gaining resources, super-powers, and unlock-able challenges are a few ways to do this.

At Game2Change we design our game-based products around these 8 elements in relation to the learning objectives. It is important to get the balance between fun game elements and effective learning content just right. Our aim is to deliver learning content in a more effective method, and we have seen over the last 5 years how game-thinking is the most successful way to do this.

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