Gaming’s Role in Education
“Gamification” is a term that many are using to describe product and customer retention loops that have originated in the video gaming industry. Over the past decade, these best practices are increasingly being leveraged by a plethora of other industries. While not an exhaustive list, consider the following:
- Personal Finance: game mechanics like points, leaderboards, and badges are becoming increasingly prevalent in financial applications like Acorns and Qapital
- Healthcare: FDA approved games that address ADHD (EndeavorRx) and apps like mySugr turn checking blood sugar into “taming the diabetes monster”
- Fitness: steps can be converted into XP for your digital companion and challenges on fitness trackers become part of daily life (Walkr, Zombies, Run!, The Walk, Genopets - one of our portfolio companies)
Although it is by no means a new phenomenon, this makes us consider the expanding role that gaming plays in our everyday lives. Whether or not you consider yourself a “gamer” is irrelevant, as this industry is having a direct impact on a host of markets that touch almost everyone on the planet.
Traditionally, gaming has been viewed as a self-contained experience; the motivation for playing games can be to relax, socialize, compete, or even distract yourself. It is an end in and of itself. However, as the examples above suggest, applying gaming principles can also be a means to motivate users toward practical outcomes like saving money or living a healthy life. In line with this, it is important to note that this approach does not automatically generate positive outcomes. Instead, it is simply a tool that can be leveraged to enhance existing engagement, build stronger retention in products, or mask a lack of user engagement by building in short term addictive drivers (this last point is one we actively try to avoid in the industry).
Making experiences feel like games can also help bridge the gap between what users want in the short term and long term. We know from behavioral economists such as Daniel Kahneman (author of the book, “Thinking Fast and Slow”) and research in dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins that, as humans, short term motivations tend to heavily outweigh our long term goals. We know eating a salad for dinner is what we want to do for our long term health, but pizza is just so compelling and easy to choose in the moment.
Gaming x Education: We view this to be particularly important in the modern education system. While it is impossible to force a student to learn and for educators to ensure their understanding of certain topics, incorporating games into a curriculum is an effective way to deliver interactive lessons that can sometimes more effectively get classrooms excited about the material. Teachers across the United States have already caught on to this. Even back in 2015, roughly 60% of K-12 teachers used digital games at least once a week, with 18% incorporating games every day. In addition to leveraging digital games as a resource for teaching lessons, over 33% of educators used these tools at least once per week to evaluate progress and understanding (APA).
On the surface, incorporating games in education seems like a win-win-win for teachers, students, and parents. However, there is a delicate balance to maintain between enjoyment and educational value. Traditional games are able to optimize purely for fun, while content designed to be used in the classroom needs to keep students engaged while providing substantial learning opportunities.
Our team believes that educational games in the past have lacked creativity and largely failed to truly capture the attention of most students. While games are inherently going to be more interesting than standard lectures or worksheets, popular trivia games like Kahoot! only go so far. This is because most solutions in the market today take existing educational practices (i.e., trivia or quizzes), and apply a thin gaming layer versus developing games that are intended to be both highly educational and fun to play. This vision at the intersection of gaming x education is no longer just a cheap version of “gamification”, it is a true gaming platform experience with the intent to educate through incredible engagement; meeting kids right where they are at.
This is one of the many reasons we were excited to lead the $5m seed round for Legends of Learning, which was announced earlier this week (press announcement, read: why we invested). Designing and executing a variety of compelling standalone gameplay experiences that seamlessly incorporate academic lessons requires a joint effort between expert game developers and experienced education professionals. Gathering feedback from both students and teachers enables the Legends of Learning team to refine the content and create impactful games that encourage playing and learning both in school and at home. These are just a few of the things that the entire team at Legends of Learning is doing amazingly well, resulting in 5% of all kids in elementary and middle school in the United States using their platform on a monthly basis.
Takeaway: We believe one of the next critical frontiers for gaming is in education. Prior studies have suggested that gaming generally improves skills like communication, resourcefulness, and adaptability (BBC), and we are bullish on the heightened engagement that gaming is able to bring to the classroom (both at school and at home via remote learning). Getting students excited about learning and providing them with a highly relevant and relatable method of consuming educational content is an undeniably powerful tool. We firmly believe that gaming will be a key tenant in the future of education (in-person and remotely) as it helps shape how students learn in the coming years.