The Gamification and Socialization of Learning

Though their ideas have been misinterpreted (and at times oversimplified), the work of both Vygotsky and Piaget has been tremendously influential on the field of education. These 20th century cognitive theorists were interested in how it is people learn–i.e., cognitive development, injecting ideas into our practice, and phrases into the pedagogical vernacular, including:

  • Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)
  • Disequilibrium–> Cognitive Dissonance–> Equilibration
  • Schemata
  • Scaffolding
  • Constructivism

That said, our current cultural circumstances–i.e., connectivity through technology–encourages a review and possible reinterpretation of of these ideas. (I think both theorists undervalue the role of self-awareness and self-knowledge in the learning process, Vygotsky especially missing some important opportunities in his ZPD model.) For now, we can stop and simply consider that though cognitive development hasn’t changed, the tools we use to affect it have.

In light of the stunning increase in the popularity of video games is gamification. “Gamification” is the use of video game techniques in non-video game media, including high-levels of interactivity, visible rewards, achievements, leaderboards, puzzles, and other forms of visual problem-solving. Mashable has done a fantastic job of keeping up with the trend of gamification, so I won’t rehash its history. For now, what makes this backstory relevant is a company called Grockit.

Grockit is an upstart company founded by a former educator attempting to socialize and gamify test preparation for national standardized tests (e.g., ACT, GRE, AP, SAT). In “gamifying” this formerly sterile process, Grockit hopes to cash on not only the novelty, but the natural human instinct to connect. Their software offers badges for “Hot Streaks” (presumably rewarding a lengthy sequence of accuracy), multimedia to explain content (think YouTube), sentient tutors (human tutor > software tutor), and opportunities for learners to connect and study together via social media.

The idea of merging current learning forms and processes with emerging technology–including the carrot-and-stick effect of gamification–is exciting. If what you’re after is a digital repackaging of current learning forms, Grockit seems to nail it (I haven’t seen unbiased “data,” nor have I sat down myself to take the courses individually).

There are undoubtedly social components to learning, and digital coursework encourages a curating of the learning process, including learning achievements–in this case, badges and trophies. I wish Grockit would’ve  applied that same sense of evolution to the idea of curriculum, and not simply curriculum delivery.

Regardless, while we lumber towards fully-realized learning revolution, innovation helpfully agitates.

You can check out an artifact of Grockit coursework here.


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  3. livepaths

    November 23, 2011 at 11:38 am

    Computers are only assistants and a good teacher’s will always be needed. However social networks such as facebook and YouTube as well as great resources including Wikipedia and Wolfram-Alpha are here to stay so that educators must use them in the teaching process. Many academics are posting great educational videos and materials online. The only problem is to sort the good ones from the rest and present them in an organized manner.

    This effort is being done by: which presents the best educational videos available on YouTube in an organized, easy to find way to watch and learn.

    They are classified and tagged in a way that enables people to find these materials more easily and efficiently and not waste time browsing through pages of irrelevant search results.

    The website also enhances the experience using other means such as recommending related videos, Wikipedia content and so on. There’s also a Spanish version called

    This is a project that YouTube should embrace itself, with curated content from academics and maybe using a different URL (Youtubersity?) so it won’t be blocked by schools.