Why does gamified learning work? And how is it useful for learning about sustainability?

Why does gamified learning work? And how is it useful for learning about sustainability?

By Fatou Sow

“The 2B Collective platform is gamified”. But what does that mean?

This article will dive into what you need to know about the what and the how of gamified learning.

According to recent studies, there is some evidence that people are becoming less hopeful about a sustainable future. For example, a 2020 survey by the Pew Research Center found that a majority of adults in the United States are pessimistic about the future of the planet and believe that future generations will face significant environmental challenges.

Another survey, conducted by the World Economic Forum in 2021, found that just 38% of people surveyed were optimistic about the future of the environment, down from 44% in the previous year. This trend was seen across all regions and age groups, indicating a widespread sense of pessimism about the future of the planet.

These findings suggest that there may be a growing sense of hopelessness and despair about the state of the environment and the future of the planet. While this is concerning, it is important to remember that hope and optimism can be powerful motivators for change. By working together and taking action, individuals and communities can help to create a more sustainable future and build a brighter tomorrow. There are many that want to counteract climate change and bring more hope. Sustainable projects are starting all around the world, many people remain determined to change this negative notion. Many initiatives involving education on sustainable living and offering solutions are constantly being created.

What is ‘gamified’ or ‘gamification’?

When many first hear the word ‘gamified’ or ‘gamification’, they think of board games, videogames or any game that is played alone or with others. However, gamification describes a certain approach toward a task. Particularly; it is a process of using game elements and mechanics to engage and motivate people to achieve their goals. In other words, by using game elements of rewards, levels, competition, social connection, and exploration, people’s attitudes and behavior can be positively changed. For example, making a to-do list and rewarding one every time a thing is ticked off, makes doing the task a game.

Gamification can be used as a nudging method. It can be part of a method to adapt people's behavior or to make going through a task more fun. Many social media platforms are gamified as they also have some form of reward system. But gamification can also be used to help people learn about- and better their sustainable actions.

But you may wonder; How does it work? Why can gamification change people's sustainable behavior? And why should it be used?

From a psychological view, gamification works by tapping into several key human motivations and emotions. By rewarding players for their achievements, extrinsic motivation to continue playing can occur. As people are naturally wired to seek rewards; gamification leverages this by providing tangible or intangible rewards for progress and achievement. Extrinsic motivation then refers to the motivation coming from outside the player (through rewards).

Gamification also often allows people to have control over their progress and the decisions they make in the game. This can be found by making choices that change future outcomes in the challenges or making community posts and doing extra tasks to gain points in the challenges. This can create a sense of autonomy and subsequently increase motivation and engagement in the challenges and topic. All of these factors ignite a feeling of exploration and curiosity from going through levels and challenges.

A case study conducted by Fengfeng et. al. from 2015 described this as ‘optimal engagement’. They found that challenging a player enough to struggle a little, but not too much that they will lose hope, is an important element of keeping people engaged.

Another significant gamification factor is the influence on social connection and competition. Teams or communities in which players can discuss issues or topics with one another and uplift each other are important factors not only to stay motivated but also for a sense of belonging that has become increasingly more important in this day in age. Additionally, when people are competing against others or against themselves, they are more likely to be engaged and motivated to continue playing. This sense of social connection can then increase motivation and engagement, as people are naturally driven to connect with others. Ultimately, gamified learning creates a sense of engagement and enjoyment that motivates people to continue playing and reaching their goals, while learning about new concepts.

Yet, while this may all sound very hopeful in theory, in application, gamification does not go uncriticized. Some critics raise eyebrows when it comes to the type of motivation that emerges from gamification. 

Criticism of gamification

Critics argue that it can create a shallow sense of engagement that only addresses surface-level motivations, rather than deeper and more intrinsic ones. Intrinsic motivation is necessary to raise personal interest in learning and developing oneself in a topic. Insufficient intrinsic motivation makes one dependent on achievements, and losses can be demotivating instead of teaching.

It is also argued that gamification is often used in a one-size-fits-all approach, rather than being tailored to the specific needs and motivations of different individuals and groups. This can in turn diminish motivation. For this reason, some people find it addictive to continue playing as they keep chasing rewards.

Some view gamification as a form of manipulation, where companies use game elements to influence behavior and make people do things they might not otherwise do. However, this concern is highly case-dependent as some games expect conscious behavior change while others try to nudge or coerce people into desirable behavior, and coercion does in fact manipulate people in some form.

Lastly, some studies have shown that gamification may not be as effective as intended, particularly when used in isolation without other forms of motivation. This is due to the type of motivation it evokes. This leads to the currently surging criticism of gamification being only goal-oriented. And this is true if the only way of getting people's interest is through getting points, reaching levels, and winning prizes without any social and personal factors. 

Gamification to further sustainability

It is important to note that while these criticisms exist, gamification can still be a valuable tool when used effectively, with a clear understanding of its limitations and potential consequences. In the context of sustainability and requiring more people to act sustainably, the named concerns can be mitigated through active efforts. Such efforts can include a GDPR policy, support users and teams through competition in their personal journey as well as create more human experiences around the challenges.

Conscious engagement in those gamified platforms should be prioritized over a passive engagement (for instance blindly clicking boxes). This opens us back up to the opportunities of gamification, as when applied effectively and aware of its limitations, it can positively impact people.

In relation to climate change, gamification can be a powerful tool. As pessimistic views seem to increase, a need for hope is necessary. Gamification may be a method to facilitate that. It has the ability to provide individuals with opportunities to practice and apply sustainable behaviors. By allowing individuals to see the impact of their actions and receive feedback, gamified learning can help to build confidence and increase motivation to continue making positive changes. Long-term advances in using gamification effectively can also help build communities and foster collaboration around sustainability as well as more inter-human exchange. By connecting individuals with others who are also interested in learning about sustainability, gamified learning can help to create a sense of shared purpose and build networks of support.

Research on gamified learning shows that it can increase optimism about the future and the environment by engaging individuals in fun, interactive, and engaging learning experiences that promote sustainability and encourage positive behavior change. In the context of advancing sustainability, making concepts more accessible, providing opportunities for practice, and fostering community, gamified learning has the potential to drive positive behavior change and create a more sustainable future.

Are you interested in reading more about gamification? Then read more on the sources used in this article as well as more sources talking about different issues touched on, such as motivation, sustainability, and more!

To read more on gamification check out the sources used in this article:

Deterding, S., Dixon, D., Khaled, R., & Nacke, L. (2011). From game design elements to gamefulness: Defining "gamification." Proceedings of the 15th International Academic MindTrek Conference: Envisioning Future Media Environments (pp. 9-15). New York: ACM.

Fleming, N (2014). Gamification: is it game over? https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20121204-can-gaming-transform-your-life

Hamari, J., Koivisto, J., & Sarsa, H. (2014). Does gamification work?—A literature review of empirical studies on gamification. Paper presented at the 2014 47th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences.

Kapp, K. M. (2012). The gamification of learning and instruction: Game-based methods and strategies for training and education. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer. 

Ke, Fengfeng & Xie, Kui & Xie, Ying. (2015). Game-based learning engagement: A theory- and data-driven exploration. British Journal of Educational Technology. 47. 10.1111/bjet.12314. 

Pew Research Center. (2020, August 5). Majority of U.S. adults say future generations will face significant environmental challenges. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/08/05/majority-of-u-s-adults-say-future-generations-will-face-significant-environmental-challenges/

World Economic Forum. (2021, January 19). Optimism about the future of the environment drops to 38%, down from 44% in 2020. Retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/01/optimism-about-the-future-of-the-environment-drops-to-38-down-from-44-in-2020/

A critique and defence of gamification https://www.google.nl/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwiO3I2R-5n9AhWvh_0HHdxZDpIQFnoECDYQAQ&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.ncolr.org%2Fjiol%2Fissues%2Fpdf%2F15.1.4.pdf&usg=AOvVaw070Y3HLwfb1QA4C4IiDukg

What is gamification? https://www.biworldwide.com/gamification/what-is-gamification/

Everything you ever wanted to know about gamification https://www.manifold.group/post/gamification

Gerelateerde artikelen

Stay informed!

Sign up for the newsletter and stay up to date with our community.


Mail us

Call us
+31 (0)180 22 22 23

© 2021 - The 2B Collective

On the use of our products and services, our terms and conditions and privacy statement apply.

We use cookies

We use cookies on our website. Some of them are essential for the operation of the site, while others help us to improve this site and the user experience (tracking cookies). You can decide for yourself whether you want to allow cookies or not. Please note that if you reject them, you may not be able to use all the functionalities of the site.