Gamification of Education

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Education affects everyone. It's how humans learn both explicit material (facts, dates, formulas, methods) and implicit material (critical thinking, attitudes, judgement). It is important, though, to resist conflating the ideas of learning and education, especially regarding gamification. Learning, or the process of experiences translating into long-term behavior, takes place as soon as life begins. Even conditions in the womb will affect behavior in the future. Education, however, is a more formal process of learning being passed down from one generation to the next and is the process we will be discussing here. Education, at all levels, can be delivered using one of two main mechanisms:

  1. Instructor-led
  2. Computer-based


Instructor-led teaching does not always have to be in a formal classroom setting. It can be something as informal as a parent talking to a child about being honest, a kid showing off his newly acquired hockey skills to his peers, or a colleague speaking to his partner over coffee about the newly formed regulation and how it may affect their business. Any formal or informal setting where information is being imparted to one or more people by another human being can be clumped under instructor led teaching.

The benefits of an instructor-led teaching is that it is very interactive. People ask questions in real time and usually get an answer in real time too. Depending on the setting and the topic, it also has the potential of getting people involved in other activities like group discussion, demos, etc. All in all, it has the potential of creating an environment of high information retention rate for everyone involved.

The downside of instructor led teaching is that the effectiveness of this medium depends totally on the instructor. If the instructor cannot get the recipient involved, then even the best content will fall flat. The competence of an instructor is also subject to variance. The other problem with instructor-led education is that it can get very expensive, especially when it is related to a career. Career related instructor-led courses cost a lot because of the following reasons:

  • Payments to be made to a person to come to a meeting place and speak on a topic
  • Employees need to take time off to attend the course
  • Transport and accommodation may need to be arranged for employees


Just like instructor-led teaching, computer-based education also does not always have to be in a formal style. Examples of computer based teaching: ComputerMath

  • A toddler learning about alphabets, numbers, colors, rhymes, etc. using an app on iPad
  • A kid learning about algebra online
  • Potential pilots going through basic flight training by watching videos on YouTube or engaging in flight simulations

The benefits of computer based training are that it is cheap and people can do it at their own time. They do not have to take time off from their regular work to attend this. The downside is that this method of teaching lacks interactivity. Receivers of this information do not have an easy way to ask questions and interact with others taking the same course, resulting in lower information retention rate of the information.

How can gamification help?

Main article: Gamification

Gamification can work with both methods of education delivery. It can accentuate the user experience one has with instructor led courses by introducing a level of interactivity and practice. This reduces the burden on the instructor a little bit to keep the attendees motivated and involved. In instructor led courses, gamification can also be the appropriate transition from one module to another or from one instructor to the next.Dictionary

In computer based courses, games provide the much needed interactivity between the participants and also the 'instructor'. Here, the instructor need not be an actual person but game based logic that can help a participant when they do not understand something or need help.

There are two ways games can be included in training regardless of whether they are instructor led or computer based.

  1. Gamify your course(s) or parts thereof
  2. Create a game for your course(s) or parts thereof

How do I know whether to create a game or to gamify my courses? To answer this question, let's first understand what is gamification and how does it differ from a game.

  • Increase interactivity & rewards – Instead of just reading text, you are actually doing something and still going through the same content
  • Increase awareness – You can be put in scenarios that will make you do & understand things which in a normal computer based training may be 'tuned out'
  • Reward challenging tasks – Meeting deadlines, goals, targets, etc.

Game-based Learning Systems

The problem with most computer-based learning systems is that, while initially novel to students, they can become repetitive and disengaging after extended use. This is especially problematic when extended use is required for sufficient depth of understanding. Successful educational games must:

  • Identify the ability level of the player 
  • Provide rapid feedback
  • Be slightly more challenging than the learner's skill

In addition to game-based learning systems being rated by students as being more enjoyable and motivating, studies show that students report increased self-efficacy.[1]

How to gamify?

Depending on how much game like features are required, one or more of the following can be done

  • Add points to tasks that need to be completed
  • Define badges/rewards to be given out after a criteria is met
  • Create a Leaderboard to show top performers
  • Define levels to repeat tasks or to perform harder tasks
  • Earning of badges can be tied to unlocking higher levels

Difference between games and gamification

The following table lists the differences between an actual game and gamification

Game Gamification
Games have defined rules & objectives May just be a collection of tasks with points or some form of reward
There is a possibility of losing Losing may or may not be possible because the point is to motivate people to take some action and do something.
Sometimes just playing the game is intrinsically rewarding Being intrinsically rewarding is optional.
Games are usually hard and expensive to build Gamification is usually easier and cheaper
Content is usually morphed to fit the story and scenes of the game Usually game like features are added without making too many changes to your content

Types of Players

Games in general have four types of players, based off different personality types:

  • Achievers – Need to be at the top
  • Explorers – Need to find something new
  • Socializers – Need to interact with others
  • Killers – Need to eliminate other characters

For education based games, only Achievers and Explorers are the primary types of players. To understand why, let's think this through. First of all educational games have a purpose beyond entertainment. So let's see how each of our player types measure up to this new purpose.

An Achiever will do whatever it takes to complete the course. An Explorer will explore all that the game has to offer thereby covering the whole course. The Socializer will work with all the other players of the game but may not complete the course. The course will have nothing that will motivate the Killer to complete it. Achievers and Explorers are the only types of players valid for educational games.[2]

Player Lifecycle

In a social game, there is a defined player lifecycle.[3]

  • Newbie – Players new to the game. They need some hand holding. Initial levels need to be easy and help players get familiar with the game.
  • Regular – After players get to know the game, it needs to become a habit for them. The next few levels need to provide satisfaction as per the player type.
  • Enthusiast – These players have pretty much mastered the game and need new twists and challenges to continue playing

In an educational game, the player lifecycle is a little different.

  • Newbie – Players new to the game. They need some hand holding. Initial levels need to be easy and help players get familiar with the game.
  • Regular – Here, regular players are those who are familiar with the game and are working to complete the course.

Educational Games Example

Sony Wonderbook

Sony has launched a new device called Wonderbook. It is a device that hooks up with their PS3. It is meant to create a virtual world allowing people to view and participate in the stories of the book instead of just reading it. This participation allows the outcome of the book to be different like a game. Most notably, Sony has partnered with JK Rowling to create a wonderbook for her Book of Spells.

World Peace Game

John Hunter has created a board game called World Peace Game[4] to teach 4th graders about by being future leaders by simulating real world scenarios. Some of the documented results from the game are

  • Students solving global warming
  • One student pre-empted a globally catastrophic war by blocking supplies to the offending country
  • Students shared resources with countries in need to bring overall prosperity to all countries

Due to this, John Hunter has been recognized by Time Magazine as one of the 12 education activists to watch in 2012.

Ananth Pai

Ananth Pai is a 3rd grade teacher. He has incorporated games to teach his students about reading and mathematics. The result is that within 4.5 months Mr. Pai's class went from being a below average 3rd grade class to a mid level 4th grade class.[5]


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  3. ^Amy Jo Kim, Community Building on the Web: Secret Strategies for Successful Online Communities, 2000, Peachpit Press. ISBN 0-201-87484-9