New study from MIT Sloan applies gamification techniques to improve online teaching techniques and student learning outcomes

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., April 2, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Online learning offers the opportunity to engage a much wider set of students with different learning styles, and potentially improve outcomes. A new study conducted by Andrew W. Loprofessor of finance at Sloan School of Management at MIT and senior researcher at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, finds that educators who borrow ideas and tools from the gaming community can improve their online teaching techniques and improve student learning outcomes .

The World of EdCraft: Challenges and Opportunities of Synchronous Online Teaching is co-written with Sean Willems, Haslam Professor of Supply Chain Analytics at Haslam College and Visiting Professor of Operations Management at MIT Sloan; and Brian Stevenslecturer at the University of Tennessee Haslam College of Business. The article is currently under review in a peer-reviewed journal.

“Teachers across the country, thrown online by surprise due to COVID-19, have found that using many traditional classroom teaching techniques doesn’t translate as well in an online environment,” said Professor Lo. “Through evolution, our attention and focus are greatly enhanced when another living creature is physically near, purely for survival purposes. And it turns out the gaming industry has figured out how to replicate that engagement in an online environment. My co-authors and I realized that this had incredibly powerful implications for online learning.”

Ideas and techniques the researchers borrowed from video game makers include using strong narratives throughout their lectures, providing students with steady streams of input that engages as many senses as possible and empowers them to join the action so they feel connected.

For example, to build anticipation for the lesson, Professor Lo follows the typical live player stream approach of displaying a countdown timer on the lesson homepage about 30 minutes before his synchronous lessons start. . He also plays upbeat music for the last few minutes before class to boost energy levels. Additionally, Professor Lo uses a combination of the “Raise Hand” feature in Zoom, polls, breakout sessions, and the chat window to keep students fully engaged at all times, switching tasks and/or once every 15 minutes or so to maintain their level of attention and interest throughout the class.

They also found that the lower cost of hosting online meetings provided greater opportunities for networking, mentoring, experiential learning and career development, based on course evaluations administered by MIT and the University of Tennessee, as well as qualitative feedback from guest speakers and teaching staff. For example, Professor Lo’s students might choose to host “fireside chats” with industry leaders, giving them the opportunity to network and develop mentors. The students also carried out short-term research projects for companies in the healthcare sector, which led to several job interviews.

To quantify the degree of networking facilitated by classroom interactions, the researchers tracked all early class-facilitated meetings throughout the semester. Based on this data, the average number of new contacts made by students was forty-three.

“Gamification could be revolutionary for education and a boon for students with more visual and collaborative learning styles,” Prof Lo said. “Take the chat window, which facilitates the wisdom of the crowd. Thanks to technology, we can engage a much wider set of students with diverse learning styles and increase the impact of their efforts. Even after the end of this pandemic, there’s no way to put that genius back in the bottle.”

Professor Lo has created an hour-long video available on YouTube detailing how his teaching progressed from the lecture hall to his early struggles to online learning to his adaptation of playing techniques which benefited MIT students.

He and his co-researchers used a combination of off-the-shelf software and hardware to create the particular format that suited their individual teaching styles, which they recommend educators also do over time. Professor Lo shares here how he set up his home studio for online teaching. Willems, meanwhile, provides a list and tour of his home studio here, and Stevens shares his journey teaching online, which continues in a second video that also highlights his home studio setup.

About MIT Sloan School of Management
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