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Students learn to win with gamification

Lauren Brousell | Aug. 12, 2013
As 30-somethings go back to college to earn a first or a new degree, they sometimes need a bit of a confidence boost to re-engage with learning. At Kaplan University, students are rewarded with badges and higher rankings on leaderboards as they master skills and accomplish goals.

David DeHaven, dean of Kaplan's school of information systems and technology, says at the average age of 35-years-old, many of the students at Kaplan need a boost of confidence in order to get back into learning mode. "When you have adult learners, they may have questions about their ability to succeed and get a degree," he says.

A Class Trip to Badgeville
Last fall, in hopes of drumming up enthusiasm and boosting students' participation, DeHaven piloted Badgeville's gamification platform in an entry-level programming class in the School of Information Technology. "We picked a hard class that had a high unsuccessful rating," he says.

People love to master skills and accomplish objectives, says Rob Lytle, head of the education practice at advisory firm, The Parthenon Group. Lytle compares gamification to video games. "If you look at any video game, you're constantly leveling up." This advancement to new levels gives the player a sense of accomplishment and success, he says.

Gamification at Kaplan University
Kaplan says that gamification provides a way for students to receive immediate recognition, visualize achievements and become more emotionally involved in their progress.(Click for larger image)

For each assignment in the class, Kaplan students were presented with two versions: an easier one or a harder one. If they chose to complete the more difficult one, they would be rewarded with a "rockstar programming" badge. As a result, 85 percent of the students chose the harder version of the assignment, completed it and earned a badge. Students could also earn badges for posting on the discussion board and spending time in class and in seminars.

DeHaven said no training was needed for the gamification technology. "Students did it themselves because they liked the recognition and ability to compete and learn," he says.

Students could not only earn badges but they could also give them to their peers, and the faculty could award them to anyone who did exceptional work. Each week the leaderboard was updated with the leading badge earner. Over the course of the six-week class, students earned 9 percent higher grades, posted online 32 percent more often and spent 26 percent more time in class.

DeHaven says being on the leaderboard creates a huge sense of accomplishment for the students, which eliminates the need for any real-life prizes. "We didn't give anything outside of social recognition," he says. "The ultimate prize is your diploma."

Gamification at Kaplan University Builds Success and Community
Kaplan says that rules-based badges outlined behaviors required for academic success. Manual badges are assigned by faculty and peers, and commend students for more qualitative behaviors.(Click for larger image)


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