To appeal to a generation of students very much influenced and shaped by games of all kinds, professors are trying out a concept called gamification. According to Knewton, gamification is defined as “the use of game design elements in non-game contexts.”

Though the term ‘gamification’ is newly-minted, it describes a practice that has been in place throughout grade schools and many other institutions across the nation for some time now. The application of game elements to the curriculum in higher education has become a more salient proposition, owing to the convergence of technology with a generational inclination toward engaging and rewarding experiences.

Those who employ elements of gamification in their courses claim real benefits. Kaplan University recently announced that a pilot program at its School of Information Technology that integrated game and badge elements yielded higher grades by 9 percent and influenced 60 percent of participants to take on more difficult tasks in order to earn the correlating badges.

Dr. David DeHaven, dean of the School of Information Technology at Kaplan, said, “Our top priority is to provide students with the best learning experience using the latest tools. If the end result is more motivated students while achieving better outcomes, we say, ‘let the games begin.’”

We previously reported on Mozilla Open Badges, a service that allows individuals to earn and display badges for skills they learn online and in real life. That gamification platform fits into a larger framework of related entities. Badgeville is a platform utilized by Kaplan and Coursera, among businesses in various industries. And Veri is an online chat bot that allows users to learn by engaging with automated versions of knowledgeable people like Neil deGrasse Tyson.

The U.S. military effectively uses video games as a recruitment tool, and retail businesses recognize the benefits of rewards programs. Within higher education, researchers have reservations about gamifying the entire student experience. An EDUCAUSE report on gamification found that “gamification can be deceptively difficult to employ effectively,” citing examples such as the trivialization of subject matter and the negative effect of losing on students’ morale.

Despite this, 53 percent of respondents to a recent Pew Internet survey entitled “The Future of Gamification” believe that gamification will be a driving force in many fields by 2020, including education. The upward trend in mobile phone ownership and increasing interest in hybrid and online learning make that prediction a palpable reality.