Purnima Valiathan

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Gamifying Learning

Is it right to equate gamification with only fun and badges?


OMG, I am OMO!!

This trip to Germany, my third abroad, was to be a first in a different sort of way.  It was the first time I was OMO (on my own) – there would be no colleague in tow. Since I was here to present a paper at the International Conference on Distance Education and not meet any client, I would need to navigate the German shores all by myself. And when I look back now, I think it was a gamified learning experience! Here is why……

Hits and misses

As soon as I deplaned at the Dusseldorf airport, I  went to the information kiosk to find my way to the conference venue.  The folks there explained the “rules” of the game, which was that I had to take the metro and the bus to get to my destination. The rest, I was to figure out by myself.

Level 1 —- Figure out the train route. My attempt at eliciting this by asking the locals was met with a quizzical expression and a polite nod in the direction of signage and route maps. Of course I saw these, but I was the quintessential Indian traveler for whom “asking directions” is the default mode. We are hard-wired to do this and it would take about a dozen solo visits to erase this “deeply-embedded-verbal-direction-seeking behavior” with exploratory learning.

Level 2 — Interface with the ticket machine. I read and re-read the instructions on the machine but still felt unsure. German precision was of little help.  Yes, the Indian gene again – our mental schema is so programmed to decode only complex stuff that simple instructions seem strange (is it a trap?). Here is a confession – I managed to clear this level only because the task was not timed, and because a fellow Indian who saw me struggling, volunteered to help! That’s how I finally took the S-Bahn (German nomenclature for suburban trains) and reached my hotel.

The hotel was in a busy station building – and I recall that it had one entrance through a small door from within the station itself. It eerily felt like the magical door to the invisible train compartment in Harry Potter!

Level 3 — Take a bus to reach the conference venue. Seemed simple. Bust Stop – Check. Bus Route – Check. Feeling mighty pleased I readied myself to charge ahead while my eyes followed the trajectory of the fast-approaching bus. The strategy had all been worked out – running ahead of the others, elbowing my way through the crowd, and making it into the bus first! After all, this was my strength – all the Delhi bus trips had made me a pro at this. The bus halted. I executed my strategy only to hear someone shout, “Nicht hier” (not here)! I didn’t understand what it meant then, but the tone and tenor indicated that I had goofed up. You see, in Germany one always gets in from the front (“Einstieg”) and exits from the back (“Ausstieg”)!

Was this a gamified learning experience? What are your thoughts?


Here is what I think. This was definitely a gamified learning experience. I learned how to travel in a foreign country – by taking the underground metro (at a time when we didn’t have the metro in India), and the bus. It wasn’t “fun”, but it was definitely “challenging”. And while there weren’t any rewards in the form of badges or smileys, the confidence I gained was the reward!

So, the next time you think of gamifying learning, remember that they are much more than just “fun” and “badges”.

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