Posts published on January 18, 2018

Gamification And Virtual Learning Help Students Learn

By Danika McClure

Technological advances have had a tremendous impact on the educational sector. The advent of the personal computer, the internet, and — most recently — mobile technology have completely disrupted the educational model, making new waves of innovation and improved opportunities for learning.

The trend of mobile and online learning has grown strong in the educational community. Many colleges and universities now offer fully immersive online degree courses where the quality of learning is on par with their in-person courses. Now more than ever, students can access their courses from devices all over the world, from the office to the coffee shop, and even while traveling to new destinations. New technology has advanced so much that the days of relocating to attend college are now a matter of choice, and not necessity.

Of course, many are asking what the next wave of educational innovation might entail, and while there are a number of options available, many professors at universities around the country are turning to gamification and virtual reality to help usher in a new wave of student learning.

“An opportunity exists for college IT champions to help educators embrace gamification,” writes tech writer Dave Doucette. “Proponents of gamification, which initially flourished in K–12, say it offers just as many benefits for college students. Well-designed games boost engagement, hone critical thinking skills by requiring students to plan and strategize, and clarify abstract concepts that may be hard to grasp through reading and lecture alone. For students in online courses, gaming provides opportunities for collaboration, teamwork and friendly competition.”

While there are promising outcomes to gamification, faculty who are new to to the platform may be hesitant to jump in — wondering, for example, where to start from a technology perspective and how to ensure games deliver educational benefit alongside entertainment. But there are also a number of instructors who have taken the plunge and seen promising outcomes.

One such instructor is Ariel D. Anbar, a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, who hopes to help students embrace scientific subjects through video game technology.


When it comes to understanding complex subjects like science and math, Anbar argues, one necessary component for understanding the subject material involves “developing problem solving skills.” What happens in most university classrooms, Anbar argues, is that most students learn science and mathematics in large lecture halls over powerpoint presentations.


Working with Lev Horodyskyj, an instructional designer with previous experience in gaming development and design, and Smart Sparrow, a technology company, HabWorlds was born. The program, which is short for Habitable Worlds, helps non-science majors become more more engaged with the material by exploring the possibility of life beyond earth. The program is unique, in that it helps students engage with the material by using logic and reason, determining which planets are habitable by testing their hypotheses through a simulator.


“In one example, students are told about the different types of stars, and then are asked to hypothesize which one lives the longest,” according to a press release from ASU Online. “Being able to Hypothesize a possible answer is key to students gaining critical problem-solving skills, which is the point of the science lab. Lastly, students run a test on their hypothesis and are told if they are correct or not.”


The creation of HabWorlds is something that has been acknowledged by NASA and the National Science Foundation for its innovation. But perhaps the most important part is that professors can determine whether students are making choices at random, or whether there is a systematic process that students are going through, which may better determine student success and growth.

Overall, it’s a process that Anbar argues teaches students how to know how to use the knowledge they glean from their coursework so they can apply it in their careers.

“You can’t just show up with lecture slides that are cobbled together and glue it all together with your clever insights and commentary,” Anbar said in the aforementioned press release. Instead, developing this particular online course made Anbar more aware of what the end goal was in teaching the course.  

While it’s unclear what the future of computer based learning might entail, it is clear that gamification provides a number of benefits that help enhance the student experience.

Danika McClure is a writer and musician from the northwest who sometimes takes a 30 minute break from feminism to enjoy a tv show. You can follow her on twitter @sadwhitegrrl