What is Gamification?


‘OK, whoever finds the correct answer will get 5 points and a sticker. I’m writing the names of the students with the most points on the board. Let’s see who will be on the top!’ 

If you regularly set up in class mini competitions like that, you are already using gamification techniques in your teaching. In fact, you are employing three core gaming elements, namely Points, Badges, and Leaderboards.

Gamification is a hot new trend right now in fields like website design, marketing, and corporate training. What is more, many large universities are even offering courses and degrees in gamification.

What is Gamification?

The Oxford Dictionary defines gamification as:

‘The use of elements of game-playing in another activity, usually in order to make that activity more interesting’.

It is therefore clear that gamification is a motivation tool. However, it is not the same as playing a game; it is making a boring process interesting by using fun elements from games.

The truth is that teachers have been using it forever, even before there was an official term for it. Faced with endless boring tasks and packs of fidgety children, they had to think on their feet and come up with ways to engage and motivate them. Employing game-playing elements helped keep their students busy and interested.

What is considered as fun in games?

Apart from the obvious answer, which is winning or beating an opponent, we also derive pleasure from activities such as:

What is Gamification
What is Gamification in the classroom.
  • problem-solving
  • exploring
  • creating
  • imagining
  • collecting
  • role-playing
  • collaborating
  • simply chilling

All of these can be employed in the learning process to spice up boring tasks. In other words, educators should start thinking like game designers. To reach a certain fun outcome you need to use the appropriate game elements.

What gaming elements can be used in the learning process?

From the non-exhaustive list of gaming components and mechanics, here are a few that can be particularly useful to educators:

  • Narrative. Nothing can beat a well-told captivating story, whether you are a child or an adult. Text, audio, video, cartoon, they all have the same denominator: a storyline.
  • Progression. Learners need to know they are acquiring skills and getting better. Student portfolios and ‘can-do’ statements help them reflect on their own learning.
  • Challenges. Tasks should be easy enough to tackle, but hard enough to challenge and motivate. And, following the previous point on progression, they should have a gradually rising level of difficulty.
  • Competition. Just like in our example sentence. It is closely linked to rewards below.
  • Cooperation. Apart from competing against each other, students also like working together. Never miss an opportunity to form pairs or groups to work on a project. It is more fun than working alone.
  • Rewards. With tangible rewards there is always the danger that they may substitute for the intrinsic motivation. It is better to use intangible rewards (e.g. points). One thing to remember is that the game is ultimately its own reward.
  • Win States. When the outcome is a winner.
  • Achievements. Create tangible things that serve as proof of student achievement. These can be certificates, posters, photos, videos etc.
  • Badges. Another tangible proof of individual achievement. They can be stickers, stamps, even your own drawings on the board.
  • Leaderboards. A classification of all learners-participants according to their performance. It is a really powerful motivational tool.
  • Points. Instant intangible rewards that help create leaderboards.
  • Teams. Either working with each other in a team or cooperating to beat another team, students can overcome shyness and benefit immensely.
What is gamification?
What is gamification? Time for some serious fun.

The Multiple Benefits of Gamification in Education

Although the full list is much longer, here are the most important benefits of classroom gamification:

1. It makes learning fun

The gamification of learning can help you to create exciting, educational, and fun content, no matter what your subject matter is. It doesn’t automatically turn work into a game, but it does use the same psychological triggers that make rewards very satisfying and intensely motivating.

2. It creates positive learning habits

If you had to define the single most important aim of education, that would surely be to instill new knowledge in your learners. But how useful is that knowledge if it can’t be retained? Gamification in education makes us feel good, just like when we win a game. The brain wants to reward us, so it releases dopamine into our bodies, which in turn helps us retain new information. Repeat that and you have a learning habit.

3. It offers instant feedback

The gamification of learning allows students to work towards real-time, measurable goals, and get instant feedback for their performance. In that light, gamification is a type of formative assessment. Students are never going to improve if they can’t find out what they need to do better, and gamification gives them this timely feedback. 

4. It creates more engagement with content

Gamification offers the opportunity for learners to engage with content in an effective, informal learning environment. If learners get excited about learning, they are more likely to retain information.

5. It enhances motivation

Many students are motivated by competition. Gamification provides opportunities for competition with others for high scores, rewards and leader-board rankings.

6. Classroom gamification promotes cooperation

Learners in gamified learning programs can work towards group goals by cooperating within a competitive environment. This encourages the sharing of ideas, critical thinking and strategic thought processes.

See some examples of gamification in the classroom here.

What is gamification? A Final Word

Gamification in education can help your students move from one end of the motivational spectrum to the other: from amotivation to extrinsic motivation (powered by external rewards and teacher regulation) and finally to intrinsic motivation, when the student is internally motivated. When fun and learning come together, the result is better retention, more engagement, and a generally more positive attitude towards the process of learning.

Isn’t that what education is all about?

For a detailed action plan, read Gamification: How Can Teachers Use It?.

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Education born and bred. I have worked as a teacher for many private language schools, as a test centre administrator, as a teacher trainer, as an educational consultant, and as a publisher. I am an advocate for literacy and a huge proponent of using technology in the classroom. I mostly write about English Language Teaching. I live in Oxford.


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