Gamification in the Classroom

 Gamification in the Classroom

Dillon Frank












What is Gamification?

Gamification is a term in which video game elements are used in non-gaming systems, primarily to improve user experience. When used in a learning environment, this is where video games and video game systems are used in a classroom to promote and improve learning through development of knowledge, and collaborative skills such as problem solving and teamwork.

Why Games are useful for Learning

There are various characteristics of games that make them ideal for being used for learning and for mimicking their systems as learning environments. One characteristic that is well established in games (especially video games) is that they challenge the players while also supporting them as an approach. An effective game helps the player learn what they are supposed to be doing to overcome their problems that they have to tackle without holding the player’s hand. This has various terms for it, including “hard fun” by Seymour Papert or entering a “flow” state by Thomas Malone.

Another characteristic is that games allow players to make different decisions for different scenarios to experience the consequences of said actions. For example, a player may choose to attack the good guy instead of the bad guy in a game; this would change how the game views the player and may even behave negatively. Interactivity is often the highlight of this characteristic, as the players are the ones in control over the game rather than the developers themselves.

Lastly, games are often placed in the perspective of another person for the narrative. This perspective change is useful as players are encouraged to identify with a character (or characters) and understand the world through the actions and eyes of the character. This immerses players in the actions of the character, the consequences of their actions, and understand their world better, thus the player can learn something from the world of the character.

An example of gamification in a classroom:

Scott Hebert is a middle school science teacher that has worked to connect his students by gamifying his classroom. He sought to get his students more engaged in what they were learning as they felt there was no reason to learn what they were learning outside of “for the grades”. He wanted to introduce his students to a new way of learning.  His TEDx Talk does well to explain why gamification worked for his classroom:

How Games can be used for Learning

There are a few steps into integrating games into a learning environment:

1. Determine Student Profiles

    As with every lesson you will need to get an understanding of the skills and learning styles of your students. An understanding of your students’ skills will allow you to design the difficulty of the tasks/assignments; if the difficulty does not match it can be demotivating for students.

2. Define Learning Objectives

    If the learning objectives are not clearly defined then students will not know the value in learning and it will feel pointless to them. Appropriate game mechanics based on skill level is the primary way to do this in a gamified classroom.

3. Create the Content and Activities for Gamification

    The content that students are learning should be interactive, engaging, and rich in multimedia components. Anything that the students should know before the activity should be developed to focus on the learning objectives and taught beforehand. Once students are engaged in the activities they should allow: 

  • Multiple performances

    • Learning activities should be repeatable. If the students aren’t successful the first time they should have more chances to try and “do it right”. This improves their skills and encourages them to work harder for the next time.
  • Feasibility

    • The activities should be achievable.  Students should be able to overcome any obstacle based on their skill level and their potential to improve.
  • Increasing Difficulty level

    • This is a core aspect to a gamified classroom. Students should have multiple tasks that slowly become more difficult and complex based on the skills and knowledge they gathered from previous activities.
  • Multiple Paths

    • Another core aspect of a gamified classroom. Rather than a single way to clear an obstacle, students should be using their well-developed and diverse skills to try different ways to complete an objective.  This is a key to active learning as they are developing new strategies based on the task given to them.

 4. Adding Game Elements and Mechanisms

    If one is gamifying the classroom, then they must add multiple elements of games into the way tasks are performed by students. This includes the addition of points, transitions to higher levels, and winning awards. All of these actions are linked towards the learning objectives and the elements that are used for each task depend on the learning objectives and the teacher (i.e. higher levels may not be used for a task that requires the students to only do one activity). Individual activities have individual rewards such as badges or achievements; while activities involving groups would present the class as a larger community with results visible through something like a leaderboard.

Examples of Gamification

Many examples for gamification in the classroom exist, even the use of including video games as a learning tool is well documented.

More examples of gamification:

  • Gamification tools that are commonly used: Kahoot!, Duolingo, Socrative, etc.

  • Megan Ellis introduced gamification in her classroom to improve her students study skills, but it now is used for completing homework, being on time, and to make sure her students are prepared and engaged in their learning:

  • Ananth Pai used gamification to individualize learning in his classroom.  Students work at their own pace and work with him to improve their understanding of material and have the students get closer to mastery of concepts:

Gamification can be used in a variety of ways that are all unique to how you want to run the classroom. Some teachers heavily invest into it, such as Scott Herbert, while others such as Megan Ellis only uses it as another perspective of her classroom but does not completely centralize her classroom around the gamification aspects.

When and Why Gamification is Effective

Gamification is effective when it is well developed and designed to engage the students in a form of play. Students become more engaged when intrinsic motivation is high in the classroom. When play is reintroduced effectively and students are engaging in their activities because it is fun and enjoyable, then students will learn more effectively. Students that are just being forced to memorize material and present it back in an assessment often times aren’t actually learning.










Edmonds, S. (2011). Gamification of Learning. Training and Development in Australia, 20–22.

Kiryakova, G., Angelova, N., & Yordanova, L. (2013). Gamifcation in Education.

Sandford, R., & Williamson, B. (2005). Games and Learning. NESTA Futurelab, 1–27.

Tynan, K. (2017). Gamification: When Too Much of a Good Thing is a Waste of Time and Budget.