Leveling Up

Although I am not a fan of the term “gamification” I do believe there are some game-related mindsets and skills that have super educational potential. It’s not just about engaging students who are gamers in some other content. When we “level up” we are applying a meta-cognitive framework that asks students to think about what successful learning means for them. But how exactly does leveling up mesh with learning?

Levels are a core structural feature of many games. They enable designers to increase difficulty at a rate appropriate to the skill of the player. Levels are also a motivational tool. Reaching the next level is both an aspirational goal and a tangible reward. The sense of satisfaction that comes from leveling up is what keeps players playing.

Leveling up implies visible progress in learning. You know, can do, or understand more than you could before, and the difference is large enough that you can recognise it. Making progress is great, but it’s easy to lose interest if you can’t see it. Structuring learning in levels allows students to see the progress they are making. They can access those sensations of satisfaction and motivation that keep them coming back for more.

I don’t see leveling up as competitive – the focus is on individual, incremental gains in knowledge, skills or understanding. If you map it out for your students as a personal pathway there is less emphasis on comparison with other students. Of course, peers can always help each other to reach the next level.

Leveling up integrates well with standards-based assessment or the use of rubrics, across curricula and age groups. My focus this year is IGCSE Economics, where I’ll be using leveling to scaffold paragraph answer technique. Try it out with your students this coming term and let me know what you find!

I owe the inspiration for this post to Marshall Sutcliffe and Luis Scott-Vargas, Magic: The Gathering players and hosts of the Limited Resources Podcast. Their “level up” segments are a perfectly bite-sized chunk of Magic theory, and fit so well with the ethos of LR. Support them on the Patreon.


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