Following on from our part 1 post I’m taking up the question that was left hanging in the air: what does gamification really mean for language learning?

The answer, as unsatisfactory and contradictory as it may sound, is: it means what it’s always meant. ‘Good’ language teachers will always instinctively apply such concepts to engage and help their learners. The technology utilised in this approach could range from a piece of paper to a room full of iPads. The tech is the vehicle for delivering the solution, not the solution itself.

The real question is ‘What does language learning mean for gamification?’. In its native environment of business gamification techniques are being increasingly applied in order to change or promote certain behaviours and to increase engagement. It can be safely assumed that the behaviours that are being held up as exemplary within the corporate arena are behaviours that contribute to the efficiency, productivity (i.e profit) of the business.

Applying this same approach to language learning presents a conundrum: when there are as many motivations, ambitions, preferences, experiences and (I’ll use the word for want of a better one) intelligences as learners within any given learning environment how are the tools that gamification offers going to effectively ‘produce’ a singular desired outcome? What does a ‘successful’ or ‘motivated’ learner look like and how would a teacher be able to spot one? Profit is to business as insert answer here is to language learning. Completing that statement with ‘grades’ or something similar would be doing a huge disservice to the learners in the real learning environments. Surely the most sought for ‘profit’ for language learners is an understanding of how they learn best and how they go about identifying what it is they want to/need to learn before approaching it independently.

My suggestion here is that gamification needs to learn from language learning, not the other way around (well, not entirely anyway). What concepts do gamifiers need to be aware of from the realm of language learning when designing and developing materials or tools? Ideally, the fact that learners are not employees united by a common business strategy, but they represent a range and depth of individual needs and expectations who each require a unique approach. Rather than applying game mechanics and concepts to promote behaviours or engender desired outcomes, the key may well lie in the innovative crafting of user experiences.

Imagine the video game behemoth of GTA; the ultimate objective of the game is the same for all players, but how you get there is entirely dependant on what interests you, your priorities, time constraints etc. Do you prefer to drive around the sprawling cityscape aimlessly ramming police cars ‘because you can’, or or do you knuckle down and get straight to the missions that yield the most plot progression? Answers on a postcard …


Title Photo Credit: wwarby via Compfight cc

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