The Gamification of Learning Assessments
Three simple reasons why we do not see improvement in education
April 19, 2017

The Gamification of Learning Assessments

The Gamification of Learning Assessments

How the 21st Century Assessment looks like


By Erika Twani, CEO Learning One to One


There are at least two kinds of games,” philosopher James P. Carse shares in his book. “One could be called finite; the other infinite.” Finite games have clear rules known by all players and a winner will end it. Because it must have a winner, there is a huge focus on enforcing the rules to maintain the “fairness” to all players. Cards, sports, XBox, etc., are all finite games. Someone must win and the rest of players must lose.

An infinite game’s objective on the other hand, is to never end. Rules, boundaries and even players may change along the way to keep the game alive. In Carse’s definition, “finite players play within boundaries; infinite players play with boundaries.” In finite games, players compete against each other. In Infinite games, players contribute to keep the game alive with a clear purpose in place. There are no losers, everyone is a winner as the game continues.

Finite or Infinite game? Which one do we want to play?

Standardized tests evaluate the students’ capacity to remember – or for the sake of the argument, memorize – what they have, in theory, learned throughout the year. It creates a dynamic of competition because its nature is to compare one student’s testing performance to another with the same set of rules, and give them A to F labels: winners and losers. We have met many frustrated teachers because their students’ assessments do not reflect or evaluate the effort students put in. Standardized tests create a fear-based culture for students and for educators. For students: “if you don’t sit quiet, pay attention, do your homework and do well on tests, you will be nobody in life.” For educators: “if your students don’t do well in tests, you don’t get your bonus.” What kind of world are we preparing students for? Follow orders or be penalized?

Like finite games, standardized tests force the practice of a third party setting rules, comparing students to each other, who end up frustrated when they do not win. In the real world, companies that are thriving today are the ones focused on their mission and purpose. Craig Jelinek, the CEO of Costco – the second largest retailer in the world – ignores what Wall Street thinks because he is focused on continuously building a company for the next 20 years. The late Steve Jobs gave Apple a new direction and meaning through delivering the finest device innovations, transforming the way we use technology.

Strong focus on the competition or the obsession for double-digit growth deviates from the company’s purpose. So does strong focus on standardized tests, which sends a message to students to “be better” than the others, not better than themselves. This is not a case to be less competitive, but to create the behavior of being more competent, which by itself creates competitiveness. Isn’t it how Apple crashed competition?

What human beings or professionals are we forming in schools? The infinite game type of assessment enables the education community to always transform themselves, and live a happy life in this ever-changing world. Continuous self-improvement creates inner peace, and therefore, a better quality of life. Do you know anyone with no quality of life? That’s the meaning of poverty in its broader definition.

The 21st Century assessment

Fortunately, the education community around the world is a believer that a student-centered education is the next evolution of the system. We must also have personalized assessment where students can evaluate themselves today versus yesterday and continue to evolve beyond their time in school, for life. A 21st Century assessment looks like an infinite game where students are constantly thriving to be better than themselves each day. There is no focus on the “competition,” but rather into one’s continuous self-improvement that benefits oneself and the community. The 21st century assessment:

1. Respects the differences, assessments must be personalized 

Each person is unique and can bring great value to the world. When we focus on students’ talents instead of their weaknesses or how good/bad they are on this or that subject, we are improving their self-esteem, intrinsic motivation and resilience to continue to thrive.

2. Reaches excellence in everything

Each student has his/her own excellence level. Assessment is personalized to students and they reach their own excellent level. Reaching excellence in everything students do directly impacts their quality of life because it depends on their relationship with the world. They will have better relationships with themselves, their employers, with their significant others, with their children.

3. Shifts to constant quality, variable time

In today’s education, time is constant and quality is variable. After a school year, students end up with As, Cs, or Fs. By shifting to constant quality and variable time, the main measurement of success becomes the effort that students apply to reach each milestone, regardless of how long it takes, but ensuring the highest excellence of work.

4. Develops the conscious assessment

We are always assessing everything around us. Right now, you are evaluating if these ideas make sense to you or not. Perhaps you are thinking of dinner tonight, or if you need to put gas in your car. These assessments allow us to make decisions, whether minor or more significant. The conscious assessment is a process that allows us to learn, to make decisions, to self-improve, to be critical, to give us direction, and so many other benefits that create a better life experience.

5. Gives freedom to demonstrate learning

Whenever students can relate what they learned to what they love, we will make it easier to demonstrate learning. It is like when you are trying to speak a new language or engage in a conversation. It is so much easier to talk about what you love, it inspires you! In a recent school visit, a student shared he learned limits (math) by enumerating various psychology and philosophy authors who discussed how human beings limit themselves. He wants to be a psychologist.


The 21st century assessment develops an ongoing capacity of continuous self-improvement, keeping alive the infinite game of living an outstanding life. No wonder, we only live once.

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