Gamification is the New Sleep Learning

Remember sleep learning? We were all going to learn to speak seven languages while asleep. But the system failed: students could repeat some of the content, but failed to grasp its meaning. Had sleep learning worked, education would have reduced human beings to programmable puppets. Wives could haved reprogrammed their husbands into better lovers and fathers. Pimps could have reprogrammed women into prostitutes.

But today’s craze—gamification—is no less useless. Take, for example, language learning system Duolingo. I use it and it works for me, but that’s because I tend to ignore the gamified bells and whistles. Duolingo offers a race track approach to learning a language. You can win “XP” points, post your skill level to LinkedIn, invite your Facebook friends for practice, keep track of your daily learning streak, set daily learning goals, and earn “lingots” to spend in the company store.

All of the game elements cater to the modern narcisstic need for validation. None of it helps to learn a language if you are not intrinsically motivated. Too many people get lost in Duolingo’s gamified elements without learning the language. Gamers see the purpose of Duolingo as beating others to the finish, regardless of the learning goal.

Unsurprisingly, many people come to hate Duolingo, because after finishing the French language track in record pace, they still couldn’t read Les Misérables. One user bragged he finished the German track in only three weeks! But when asked, in German, what he thought of Duolingo’s approach to learning languages, I got a blank stare and lots of “uhms”.

How do they pull it off? By copy/pasting the correct answers into the response box. That way, they can win the game, but without learning anything. In conclusion, gamification has become the new sleep learning, a modern fraud.


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Gamification is the New Sleep Learning by Mathijs Koenraadt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.