Using Gamification in Teacher Professional Development

If you asked a room of teacher if they would rather work, play, or participate in professional development, professional development would likely come in last. Often, people imagine being stuck in classrooms listening to a lecture or chained to a computer for e-learning courses. And while these tried-and-true methods for professional development aren’t going anywhere, there are methods for increasing engagement amongst the teachers in attendance. One of those methods, if gamification.

Understanding Gamification

Gamification involves bringing elements traditionally associated with video games into the learning environment. Often, this involves concepts like points accrual, leveling, competition, and rewards being integrated into lessons that previously used another format. Additionally, most video games provide a safe space for failure, as players can respawn or open a previous save and try again. The purpose of gamification is to increase engagement by making the tasks both challenging and entertaining, but also giving participants a chance to try again if they don’t immediately succeed.

Most commonly, teachers and administrators are interested in bringing those concepts into the classroom to help students improve. But the ideas that make gamification unique can also be applied to professional development for teachers.

Unique Challenges of Teacher Professional Development

When most teachers think of learning, they see a classroom full of students who are being exposed to material for the first time. But professional development courses for teachers don’t maintain that paradigm. Instead, there is a room full of teachers instead of traditional students. Often, these teachers have other demands on their time, like grading papers and lesson planning. Additionally, the information presented in a professional development course might not be new to the learner.

All of those factors breed disaster when it comes to engagement. Teachers attending the course may be distracted by other priorities, or simply uninterested in rehashing information with which they are already familiar.

Gamification of Professional Development

To gamify professional development, instructors need to focus on student involvement. Often, this involves increasing the social requirements in the learning experience. Points based progress and leaderboards can also motivate those participating in the training to keep pushing forward.

However, it is important to find options that bring more to the experience than a simple novelty. If the information isn’t valuable, the intrinsic motivation related to the learning process will decline. Additionally, the process needs to be streamlined to fit efficiently into a teacher’s otherwise busy day.

The priority of all professional development should be on creating quality content first and then adjusting the delivery system to increase motivation and overall engagement. Part of gamification is making the experience fun. Celebrate achievements along the way, and give participants a chance to learn from their mistakes and try again. Let the teachers earn shareable badges along the way, and create cumulative profiles of their accomplishments throughout their careers.

Most teachers value the learning experience, so part of the intrinsic drive already exists. All you have to do is find a way to take that drive and point it towards fun activities that convey the message of the course. Then, kick back and let their excitement push the rest forward.

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