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How to Step up Your Engagement Game with Gamification

  • 5 Min Read

Learn how to gamify your learning materials & how it can help you take student engagement to the next level.


It’s no secret that educators and trainers are always looking for new ways to engage their students. These days, educators can find an arsenal of online tools to help, but one that some may find a little intimidating is the concept of gamification.

Games can go beyond fun and entertainment, and you don’t need to be a techie to implement gaming in your classroom. In fact, gamification is 75% psychology and only 25% technology.

Using games in your course materials can range from a very simple and easy structure to a much more complex one.

I’m going to explain how gamifying your learning materials is a lot easier than you think.

What is Gamification?

Simply put, gamification is the application of game mechanics to learning activities. Some examples of these game mechanics could include having a point system, badges, leaderboards, creating levels, and a narrative.

Assigning points and badges throughout your course can appeal to the Bartle’s Achiever type of player, who wants to collect everything possible in a game. On the other hand, introducing a complex narrative broken out into different levels that might change based on the actions of the user may appeal to Bartle’s Explorer type of player, who wants to see everything a game has to offer.

HELPFUL TIP: While adding gamification to a course can help, it can also hinder. For example, those who are already intrinsically motivated may be deterred by the added element of badging to a course.[1]

As with any engagement tool, it’s important to observe how your students are reacting to what you’re doing and to respond appropriately. There is no magic formula to engaging your students, and the same goes for applying gamification to your course – experimentation is key.

How Can I Gamify My Course?

Here are some simple ways you can add gamification to your current learning materials:

  • Create a point system for completing assignments of different types. Whoever has the most points is the winner.
  • Weave a story with multiple chapters around your course, revealing more of it as students complete the material. The story can be related to something in the material, or just something your learners are interested in.
  • Provide a list of badges for learners to collect that are associated with a set of activities in a level, in your course. For instance, a badge could be associated with a certain competency the learner is trying to master.
  • Create an overall “map” of your course that serves as a fun visual representation of how many levels there are and what rewards are associated with those levels.
  • You can have hidden “bonus” content for those who want to explore certain concepts more. You can tie-in rewards with these bonus activities as well.

HELPFUL TIP: It’s important to communicate the potential rewards or incentives within the material, so your students know exactly what they’re trying to achieve.

Using games in the classroom provides educators with another method of engaging students, but you can take it a step further by going beyond the simple application of game mechanics, an actually use gameplay.

Putting Games to Work for You

I have a confession to make – I’m a pretty big Pokémon Go fan. In fact, recently at the D2L Fusion conference in Washington, D.C. I took the opportunity to catch Pokémon in an area I wouldn’t normally be able to. Walking around the National Mall, Pokémon Go acted as one of my motivators to keep exploring as there were many Pokéstops around (showing me monuments I didn’t know about). Although Pokémon Go does not have content related to the topics I was learning, it did act as a motivator. This is just one example of how a game designed for entertainment can contribute to motivating learning.

You can also use games with related topics to spark interest in the content itself. Just like showing a movie in a class to gain interest in the topic you will be teaching, games can achieve a similar hook. They can serve as a great introduction to the learning ahead.

HELPFUL TIP: Some of the content in games can be oversimplified, so try to keep the momentum going for deeper learning. Find out what games your students are interested in and try to incorporate those into your course.

Games Built for Education

Some games have been adapted specifically for education, such as SimCity EDU, Minecraft: Education Edition, and Civilization Edu. All of these examples take games that were built for entertainment and modify them to have goals specific to standards and competencies. Playing these games will teach your learners specific concepts and set appropriate goals for them to achieve. These can be great tools for exploration and self-paced learning.

Try It Out

If you’re feeling up to the challenge, there are many game-making tools that allow you to build your own games tailored to your content. This can be a lot of work, but it also allows for the most customization and control. You can build a simple text-based interactive non-linear game (i.e. choose your own adventure) using Twine, or get a little more complex with a full RPG story using RPGMaker.

How Can I Get Started on Building Games?

  • Ask students to use Pokémon Go to visit Pokéstops in their area. By doing so, they can create a historical documentary about the area.
  • Build a story in Twine where students must use the content they’ve learned while playing the game, as well as their critical thinking skills to complete the scenario.
  • Ask your learners to build a game of their own to demonstrate their understanding of concepts.

HELPFUL TIP: Many instructors have been using analog games to engage learners for years. Take advantage of the online tools available today, along with the vast library of games that already exist. There’s lots of resources out there that can help incorporate games in the classroom in more ways than ever.

[1] Deci, E.L., Ryan, R.M., & Koestner, R. (1999). A meta-analytic review of experiments examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 627-668

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Table of Contents

  1. What is Gamification?
  2. How Can I Gamify My Course?
  3. Putting Games to Work for You
  4. Games Built for Education
  5. Try It Out
  6. How Can I Get Started on Building Games?