Bridging the gap between education and games

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The application of concepts such as gamification or game-based learning reduces the stress caused by homework and gives students control in their learning process, promoting autonomy and self-management.

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Games and school have a lot in common. They are both human systems that have an objective with clear rules, in which individual and team performance depends largely on the commitment and actions of the participants. Consequently, over the past few years, a growing number of teachers have set out to explore these similarities and take advantage of their benefits, in terms of enhancing learning. This has led to the creation of a movement that includes two very specifc styles of approaching the concept of games in the classroom: Game-Based Learning and Gamification.

Teaching in the so-called digital age to a generation with information overload and a culture of immediacy is an enormous challenge. Game strategies, such as those mentioned above, allow teachers to captivate their students with educational content. They are not intended to be strategies for teaching, but rather for classroom management, in order to address one of the biggest problems faced by education today: the lack of motivation to learn. This type of class helps to reduce the stress caused by homework and gives students control over their learning process, thus fostering autonomy and self-management.


“Teaching in the so-called digital age to a generation with information overload and a culture of immediacy is an enormous challenge.”


Game-Based Learning techniques include a strategy called Reacting to the Past, used by university faculty to generate in-depth learning about different moments in history. With this technique, students are placed within a historical context and face a problem that arose at that time. The teacher assigns roles with the corresponding stances for each student and sets individual and group goals for discussing this problem. During this role-playing game, students debate and defend their position in heated discussions that require a profound knowledge of the historical background and situations parallel to the problem in question. This helps students understand history as if it were part of their lives and generates empathy. During the session, the teacher performs a qualitative evaluation of the students’ involvement in the dynamics and empathic understanding generated from the historical circumstances in which they are also participants.

Reacting to the Past has to be implemented over several classroom sessions and is designed for educational models that are more concerned with learning quality than the diversity of topics that can be addressed within an academic period. It would be interesting to apply this initiative in different school contexts and with different curricular content to study its impact.


"Reacting to the Past is a technique used by university professors to generate deep learning about different historical moments."


Gamification is also a strategy used to enhance motivation and encourage students’ active participation in the classroom. A new proposal for this topic is the implementation of open worlds in the gamified classroom. The mechanics of open worlds in games has gained popularity over the past few years and consists of placing players in a challenging and unexpected situation, allowing them to explore the opportunities that emerge creatively and freely. In this way, they take risks and accomplish small goals, while learning freely as they move towards and ultimately reach the final goal.

In traditional games, stories tend to be linear, leading players by the hand through icons or reference points. In this system, the players have very little time to act, knowing that their decisions will have an impact on the outcome of the game. In contrast, in open-world games players are guided by their own curiosity, gradually generate their own story, have the freedom to explore options that arise and learn to solve problems in a creative way that will serve to achieve the ultimate objective of the game.


Open worlds in the gamified classroom is a proposal of games that has gained popularity in recent years and consists of placing the player in a challenging and unexpected situation, in such a way that he takes risks and achieves small goals that will allow him to learn and reach the final objective.


If we compare the use of the open-world concept as the mechanics of the gamified classroom with normal classes, the result would be more or less as follows:

In a "normal" class, with or without gamification, there could be about 20 possible topics to be addressed in relation to one area of interest (for example, chemistry, physics, etc.) during the semester. The sequence of these topics, the deliverables and other elements are determined by the teacher or the curriculum. All the students take the same class and have limited decisions about what they can do to personalize the experience. It is the teacher who mostly decides how to approach predesigned problems and expects specific results at the end of the year.

In an open-world gamified class, there could be more than 100 possible topics to be addressed in several areas of interest (for example, psychology, design, business, education, etc.). There is no fixed sequence, the students determine the subjects they are going to review, in which order and combination, as well as the deliverables. The teacher’s role is not to point students in the right direction, but to design the open world, ask students about their personal progress and how they combine the different areas to design their own products; suggest if asked to do so; solve any doubts; and organize discussions when so required.

The open-world classroom becomes a space for free exploration. The teacher leaves the stage in front of the blackboard to concentrate on knowing in order to guide students, engaging in discussions, curating resources and individualizing student education. Although this model is attractive, it is also extremely demanding for the teacher, since it implies being knowledgeable in a wide variety of subjects and spending a significant amount of time on course design.

The time has come to explore beyond the linearity offered by education, in one of its most deeply rooted paradigms, ICTs, which have opened the panorama for us in this interconnected world, with the need to transform content into competencies, and where knowledge is applied dynamically and comprehensively . This gamification-based proposal could be an answer to explore this "new world" from another perspective.

Even though this experiment is just getting started, I would like to invite you to play with this concept in your classrooms and share your experiences with me. After viewing such an open world, I find it difficult to return to such a limited classroom. The greatest risk of using the strategies described in this article is that neither the teachers nor the students involved will want to return to a classroom where they are not used.


About the author

Jorge A. Zepeda, JAZ, is a professor at Tecnológico de Monterrey. He has more than six years’ experience in gamifying his classes. He has attended a variety of courses related to this topic, to enrich his practice and present his proposals.