The first teacher education courses I took, way back when the rocks were soft, emphasized that games were for practicing skills: computational skills, reading skills, whatever. Although “how to make learning games” course offering in college did not exist, as a teacher, I had a file cabinet drawer full of “folder games” to practice almost everything imaginable!
Today, in my sunset years of teaching, the question is: what factors make a game effective for learning? From readings in the text by Karl Kapp, The Gamification of Learning and Instruction : Game-based Methods and Strategies for Training and Education , the use of games goes beyond skill practice. Gamification is a tool for learning and behavior change of any kind. Kapp says it is the interplay of the elements of games which make it possible to gamify content for effective learning. These are the elements of games which are most valuable to effective learning: the story, the challenge, the sense of control, decision making, and sense of mastery. Kapp continues to state that games engage learners through the use of: curiosity, challenge, avatars, distributed practice, and storytelling. As the author states, gamifiying content is matching game elements with contents and incentives or rewards to create a relationship with the learner, which, I believe, is what effective learning is all about: relationships.