Xbox Controller with a Mortarboard representing Gamification in Education1

How Gamification Can Transform Education and Student Experience

Posted by:
Ahalya Sattiraju

June 26, 2019

What is Gamification?


Humans, by virtue, are drawn to opportunities to win. Naturally, gamification has been used in several areas to encourage certain behaviors, motivate and engage participants. Gamification, by definition, is the use of game design and mechanics to enrich non-game contexts[1]. It has been a popular and successful marketing strategy for a while now. Rewards systems such as Flybuys to encourage loyalty, credit cards with points to reward good credit management, fitness apps like Nike+ Run Club allowing runners to measure their efforts, etc. are just a few successful examples of gamification.


Why is it relevant in education?


Rotman’s School of Management from the University of Toronto, Canada has identified some common pain points in education that prevent the student from advancing in their courses, highlighting the need for a fun, engaging and innovative way of learning.


  • Focus: A generation that grew up in front of screens have a tough time focusing for extended periods with lecture-style learning.
  • Motivation: Young people generally tend to lose motivation easily if the task given to them isn’t interesting, is difficult or doesn’t have instant rewards.
  • Skills: Universities have diverse sets of students of different backgrounds, ages and skill sets. A student might abandon a task due to the fear of failure as they would view the barrier of entry as too high.
  • Pride: Few older students tend to believe they know what is being taught already. This could be an issue especially if the lecturer is younger than the student. Gamification is a great way to standardize learning for students of all ages and levels of experience.
  • Physical, Mental and Emotional Factors: Factors such as fatigue, hunger, mental health and well-being and emotions based on the surrounding environment impact the learning ability of a student.
  • Learning Environment and Nature of the Course: The size of the class, time, location and structure of the education program can directly influence a student’s learning or lead to other pain points.


How Gamification can relieve these pain points:


Gamification utilizes the underlying principles of games to enhance a learning experience. A successful gamification program uses four freedoms of play according to MIT professor Scot Osterweil:


  • The Freedom to Fail: Gamification allows students (or in this context, players) to fail without persistent or detrimental consequences, as opposed to existing course structures that have dire repercussions for failing a test, assignment or an exam. Failure can take a toll on a student’s learning, confidence and emotional and even financial well-being and gamification provides a safe environment to experience failures and learn from them.
  • The Freedom to Experiment: Gamification lets players explore different strategies and use information in different ways to achieve their goals. This increases players’ motivation to come up with smarter, quicker, better ways of accomplishing the same task.
  • The Freedom of Identities: Gamification lets players assume different roles and identities to explore different approaches to one problem. It offers multiple perspectives and lets players break from what is expected of them to discover a range of behaviors and how they impact the outcome of a task.
  • The Freedom of Effort: Students are subject to tedious, time-consuming tasks that require efficient planning by the minute; something not all students might be good at. Gamification allows players to take breaks or some time off without losing all the effort they’ve put in and effectively prevent burnout.



[1]Deterding, Sebastian & Dixon, Dan & Khaled, Rilla & Nacke, Lennart. (2011). From Game Design Elements to Gamefulness: Defining Gamification. Proceedings of the 15th International Academic MindTrek Conference: Envisioning Future Media Environments, MindTrek 2011. 11. 9-15. 10.1145/2181037.2181040.

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