In a post on The Chronicle of Higher Education titled The Looming Gamification of Higher Ed, author Kentaro Toyama posits that gamification in higher education takes away from students’ intrinsic motivation to learn.

Gamification in higher education has become a hot topic in recent years.  NJEDge and Rutgers University held a conference dedicated to it last year around this time.  If you’re not familiar with the concept of gamification, Wikipedia describes it as “the application of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contexts.”  In higher education, common examples may include allowing students to submit assignments multiple times, completing coursework in a variety of formats (the choice of a paper or presentation, for example), or using leaderboards and digital badges to encourage participation.

Toyama argues that gamification “capitulate[s] to a generation of students who supposedly can’t muster interest and curiosity on their own. Though the rhetoric of gamification claims ties to intrinsic motivation, any attempt to cause one behavior (i.e., learning) through other means (i.e., game elements) is the very definition of extrinsic motivation.”  Gamifying your classroom, then, is not worth the effort because it will not generate intrinsic motivation in the student, he says.  In order to be intrinsically motivated, however, students need to first have an interest in the subject matter.  But in an age of required courses and general education requirements, students cannot possibly have a genuine interest in every single class they take — like the physics major who does not care about humanities courses, or the English major who struggles to apply calculus.

Students are rarely intrinsically motivated to do much.  And that applies generally to everyone.  If you could make the same amount of money without coming to work, and you could not be fired for any reason, would you still come to work?  Probably not.  In the same way, external factors play into what most people do on a regular basis.  Even if you love what you do, external motivators encourage you to get out of bed every day and head to work.  It’s no different in the classroom, where the threat of failing a course can motivate students to complete their work.

I agree with Toyama that there’s not enough intrinsic motivation in today’s classrooms, but I disagree that it has anything to do with gamification.  Even without gamification, students are already extrinsically motivated by grades, GPAs, and financial aid/scholarship concerns.  So there’s little, if any, intrinsic motivation to begin with, especially with how distracted students are nowadays.  In my eyes, the goal of gamification is not to all of a sudden instill a deep, rich, personal interest in the subject at hand, but rather to grab students’ attention for a few minutes so that maybe, just maybe they can finish this blog post…I mean, pay attention for a little longer in class.

What do you think? Does gamification decrease students’ intrinsic motivation?

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