Learning Theories

12 Gamification


Watch overview videoGamification (3:32)


Gamification is the incorporation of game-related elements to non-game contexts such as education.  In education, gamification is used under the assumption that the type of engagement experienced by gamers can be translated to support students’ learning. After considering the contexts, learning objectives and distinctive needs of their students, educators in a gamified classroom setting may integrate such game-related elements as progress indicators, fun, narrative, immediate feedback, mastery, player control, social connection and scaffolded learning to impact students’ attitudes, behaviours and actions and enhance their motivation, engagement, creativity, retention and overall learning outcomes.  The term gamification was first penned by Nick Pelling in 2003. But gamification in education can be traced back to Thomas Malone’s 1980 study on motivating computer games and Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars 2002 exploration of game principles in public policy studies. In recent years, Katie Salen, Jessica Hammer, Joey J. Lee, Jane McGonigal, Jesse Schell, and Karl Kapp have further advanced the application of gamification in education.

Guidelines for Use

Guideline 1 – Identify Context and Learner Audience

Identify the learning abilities, age group, skill set or current knowledge of students as well as context such as learning environment, time frame, subject or topic.  For example, the beginning of a gamified e-learning module would state that it is aimed at biology students in grade 11 who have taken grade 10 biology and are familiar with cell structure, specialization, and mitosis as well as dissections.  You would specify that this module is aimed at grade 11 students and will focus on cellular functions, genetic processes, biodiversity, evolution, and the anatomy, growth, and function of plants.

Guideline 2 – Define the Learning and Behavioural Objectives

Define the overall learning goals that you want the student to achieve.  For example, at the completion of the first task, the student will understand a particular concept such as taxonomy and, also, be able to work collaboratively with a classmate to identify parts of the concept of taxonomy.

Guideline 3 – Structure the Learning

Decide how you want to structure the learning whether by stages, tasks, levels, or assignments completed, time spent, levels of complexity reached in a challenge, points or badges accumulated, or missions completed in a quest.  Assess if you want the learning to be individually focussed or collaborative as part of a team or group or a mixture of both. Identify what students need to achieve, reach, know at each point, level or stage as they progress through their learning.

Guideline 4 – Identify and Define Rules and Means Used to Gamify the Learning

Define the rules that govern students’ progress and achievement of tasks.  Identify the tools you will use to track or measure students’ progress throughout the lesson, i.e.: incorporating such game elements as points, badges, deadlines, scores, unlocking a clue, giving them access to the next level, etc.  Pinpoint when it is appropriate to measure, i.e.: specific stages or completion of tasks or assignments. Evaluate if the means enable timely and effective feedback to the student and you as the instructor. For example, you may decide that a student must achieve 100% on a task before progressing to the next task.  And you equate achieving 100% with 5 points for a particular task.

Guideline 5 – Decide What Gamification Elements to Apply

There are several gamification elements that can be incorporated such as giving students the freedom to choose but also to fail, showing student progress through points, scores, progress bars, dashboards or leaderboards, giving immediate, specific and individualized feedback, creating personalized experiences or challenges, inventing narratives or stories, enabling students to choose different identities or roles or giving them individual or team tasks or a mixture of both.  ​For example, students can choose and have control over the shape, size or colour of a programmed object they create when programming and have the freedom to able to change, adjust and return to it until they are satisfied with it or until they get it right.

Good Examples of Use

Example 1 – Learning Spanish with Duolingo for Schools

This example shows how teachers can incorporate Duolingo for Schools to create a gamified online classroom for learning Spanish for students in various grades   Teachers can create the Spanish class, share the link with students, schedule the class, add assignments specific to grade level and Spanish curriculum, set up class activities and incorporate game elements such as personalized feedback, flashcards, power practice, accrual grading connecting points to correct answers.

Example 2 – Learning to Program with Khan Academy

This Khan Academy video uses game elements such as freedom to fail by allowing students to return to their program and change the code, showing progress by allowing them to see their coding screen and the results of their coding, providing immediate feedback if they have made an error in coding, enabling them to have freedom of choice in choosing sizes, colours, shapes, and unlocking content by giving them access to other learners’ creations.

Helpful Resources

Resource 1 – The Innovative Instructor Blog About Gamification

This John Hopkins University blog by an instructor defines gamification and explores the process of gamifying education.  It provides links to definitions, research, talks, and websites about gamification.

Resource 2 – Video about Incorporating Gamification Elements in the Classroom

In this video a high school teacher explains how she has incorporated gamification in the classroom environment to motivate and engage her students.

Resource 3 – The Difference Between Gamification and Game-Based Learning.

This University of Waterloo website explains the difference between Gamification and Game-Based Learning, the pedagogical role of game elements, types of gamification strategies and provides examples of gamification and game-based learning tools.


Brunvand, S., & Hill, D. (2018). Gamifying your Teaching: Guidelines for Integrating Gameful Learning in the Classroom.  College Teaching. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329014473_Gamifying_your_Teaching_Guidelines_for_Integrating_Gameful_Learning_in_the_Classroom

Caponetto, I., Earp. J., & Ott, M. (2014). Gamification and Education: A Literature Review. Proceedings of the 8th European Conference on Game-Based Learning. ECGBL, 1, 50-57. Retrieved from:  https://www.researchgate.net/publication/266515512_Gamification_and_Education_a_Literature_Review

David, L. (2016, January 26). Gamification in Education. [Web page]. Learning Theories. Retrieved from https://www.learning-theories.com/gamification-in-education.html

Dichev, C., & Dicheva, D. (2017). Gamifying education: what is known, what is believed, and what remains uncertain: a critical review. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education. 14(9). Retrieved from:  https://educationaltechnologyjournal.springeropen.com/track/pdf/10.1186/s41239-017-0042-5

Huang, W. H-Y., & Soman, D.  (2013). A Practitioner’s Guide to Gamification Of Education. Research Report Series: Behavioural Economics in Action. Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. Retrieved from:  https://inside.rotman.utoronto.ca/behaviouraleconomicsinaction/files/2013/09/GuideGamificationEducationDec2013.pdf

Landers, R. N. (2015). Developing a Theory of Gamified Learning. Simulation & Gaming. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/268632276_Developing_a_Theory_of_Gamified_Learning

Lee, J., & Hammer, J. (2011). Gamification in Education: What, How, Why Bother? Academic Exchange Quarterly. 15(2). Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/258697764_Gamification_in_Education_What_How_Why_Bother


Submitted by: Ivetka Vasil

Contact Info: ivetka.vasil@ontariotechu.net

Bio: I am a graduate student in the M.Ed. program in Education and Digital Technologies at Ontario Tech University with an interest in incorporating gamification into healthcare learning environments.


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E-Learning Essentials 2020 by Power Learning Solutions is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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