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Notes on Gamification in Early Years

Why do we play?

* Impressive number of studies on serotonin and oxytocin release during game and gamification engagement

* Psychological studies have shown that gamers often experience altruistic encounters in video games, as more experienced players help “newbies”.

* Being there without being there (simulation)

  • * Have fun!


What is Gamification?

Overlaying Game Mechanics onto real-world scenarios or activities. Gamification practices strive to influence people’s sense of competition, challenge, status, achievement and accomplishment. Providing approaches for collaboration, meaningful choices, assistive tutorials, increased challenges and narrative as well as system benefits such as marketing, customer retention and metrics for analysis.

Gamification is already used in education. Teachers often give out stickers or certificated for achievement. There could be class leaderboards and house points, and some schools still have inter-class competitions. How have you used Gamification? How do you think the ideas mentioned above could be delivered digitally?

There are two concepts to consider in Gamification;

  • Game Dynamics
  • Game Mechanics

Game Mechanics are the objects within the game and their relationships with each other. Game Dynamics are the behaviours that occur when the mechanics are used.

How does it work?

* Achievement – You can show this through design elements like a high score table, progress bar or a digital badge

* Competition – There should be an element of competition for the user either against themselves to beat a personal best, a computer opponent or a real opponent

* Fun – Your gamification design should have an element of fun, after all, that is the essence of any game. There is a difficult balance in making a game accessible for anyone to use, but with enough challenge to keep the user motivated, while maintaining the fun (see Candy Crush app for a good example)

Who is playing?

* Average age of gamers in the UK – 57% players in the UK are male and 43% female. The largest single age/gender demographic is 15-24 year-old males ( )

* Mobile games have a lot to answer for – 47% of UK smartphone owners use apps on their phones to play games – more than use apps for online banking (40%) or reading the news (33%) ( )

* University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine what to avoid ‘default mode error’ and increase problem-solving by offering 3 plausible solutions to consider

* Financial service creating games to teach risk-assessment

Gamification in Early Years?

Under the title of ‘Understanding the World’, the UK Early Years Foundation stages curriculum does include expectations that children will be able to engage with technology. But we need to go further than that to ready them for 21st Century Pedagogy.

As much as I hate the need to label generational trends, Tootell et al (2014) discuss Generation Alpha as the new crop of young people coming through our early year’s programmes across the world. A generation that is not only naturalised to technology but also is comfortable with the concept of ‘connection’, expecting technology to support their social infrastructure.

Tootell et al (2014) go on to state that technology has a role in play and can act as a medium for aspects of scaffolding. Nolan and McBride (2014) noted that when children play at home it is unstructured with no external set of rules. We need to be careful when implementing Gamification that we do not trample over this autonomous play, as once observed or playing to set rules children’s behaviour alters. We need to create play-based environments that allow freedom and a level of privacy if the children are to develop independently and return to the game.

In addition, integrating development of digital literacy opportunities in early years allows us to support those pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and ensure that we narrow the gap with those with more resources (Zevenbergen, 2007).

Nolan and McBride (2014) warn that we need to continue to critically study play and gamification in early years to ensure that we are not subjected to behaviourist frameworks and joyless play.

Elements of  Gamification

* Scenarios
* Challenges
* Rewards / Level up
* Feedback
* Chance to Fail
* Social

Potential Tools


My Presentation: 

Nolan, J. & McBride, M. (2014). Beyond Gamification: reconceptualizing game-based learning in early childhood environments. Information, Communication and Society, 17(5) 594-608

Tootell, H., Freeman, M. & Freeman, A. (2014). Generation Alpha at the intersection of technology, play and motivation. 47th Hawaii International Conference on Systems Science.

Zevenbergan, R. (2007). Digital Natives come to play school: implications for early childhood practice. Contemporary Issues in Early Years Childhood 8(1), 19-29

Keep an eye on the EasyPeasy: Learning Through Play project funded by the EEF


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