Day 3 – Good gamification practices

Written by Dr Patrick Tran, from the University of New South Wales
By DG-RA, sourced from Pixabay, downloaded on 27/09/18

To play or not to play, that is the question we need to consider when deciding to gamify a course. Gamification may not work in all circumstances. It demands hard work and involves some level of complexity.

  • How far into game playing are you willing to go?
  • Will it have a meaningful impact on the learners, considering their mixed learning styles and the specific content?

Let’s discuss some pitfalls and good practices of gamification in the context of learning.

How effective is gamification?

It is not clear whether a connection exists between gamification and performance – don’t be too surprised about this! Not all people learn equally in a gamified environment, so a predictable outcome, good or bad, is not possible.

In fact, learners’ participation and motivation is what gamification aims to improve. Can motivation translate to better learning performance? This remains to be seen.

How to deal with losing in a game?

By stevepb, sourced from Pixabay, downloaded 27/09/18

One problem with gamification is that people can win or lose in a game. The feeling of being a loser is not particularly fun or encouraging. As educators, we need to balance the positive and negative emotions of winning and losing.

One way to combat this is to deemphasize winning. Don’t spend too much time praising the winners but rather, emphasize learning aspects of the experience.

For example, we can measure learners’ progress against themselves as how much improvement has been made, instead of comparing against others.


Use what you have and be mindful of potential costs

By stevepb, sourced from Pixabay, downloaded 27/09/18

It has never been easier for educators to gamify their courses than it is now. Most learners are already familiar with gamified experiences in many aspects of their life, ranging from customer loyalty programs to actual digital games.

The current learning management systems (LMSs) are so flexible that educators, with limited technical skills, can make their learning activities more engaging with interactive media. This effort is well supported by the game-like mechanics built in LMSs such as completion tracking and restrict access.

It can take some creative thinking to imagine what else the basic components of an LMS can achieve, and it may be tempting to acquire a specialized gamification platform or install fancy gamification plugins in your LMSs. However, we have to be mindful of the cost effectiveness of this decision and consider our institutions’ policies and processes around LMS management.

Don’t worry! Simple activities, if implemented with strong pedagogical support and game thinking, can achieve pretty much the same goals as specialized tools.

How much gamification do I need?

Behind the scene, gamification attempts to use extrinsic motivators (e.g. external rewards) to develop an intrinsic drive for people to engage in an activity. The result of this process, if successful, is an enduring engaging experience. The gamification design itself may not last forever; engagement can diminish over time if we stop the external incentives. This is absolutely fine.

In reality, we often use gamification as an initial push to our learners, long enough for a strong self-motivation to be established as the primary driver of learning. The rule of thumb is that you only need to gamify 20% of the course that accounts for 80% of the desired outcome since turning everything into games is time consuming and difficult.


Gamification is sometimes mischaracterized as only developing a game or motivating people through game playing. It is not. Gamification simply means using game elements to trigger positive emotions that help guide people through the content. In fact, a gamified experience may not even involve any actual game.

I hope that you now have some basic understanding of gamification design concepts. Many teachers are already doing this, by taking an activity and reframing it to be more appealing. This is gamification by definition! The potential of this approach to educational design is only limited by your imagination.

So next time when you try to develop an engaging and motivating experience, think like a game designer!

Learn more

You can use the Moodle (Wattle) quiz to do gamification. Check out the optional extra materials about how this can work.

question markLearning Activities

Activity 1 – What could go wrong with gamification?
Relate to your work (e.g. teaching) or life, give an example in which gamification may not be suitable. Explain why.
Activity 2 – How gamification can help you
How would you plan to apply game thinking in your own course or a course that you attended in the past? Be specific about what you hope to achieve from this plan.



15 thoughts on “Day 3 – Good gamification practices

  1. Hi Patrick,

    I think that gamification in the ESL classroom may not be suitable when trying to engage students in the learning process, rather, it should be used as a supplementary or revision activity to help students remember content, skill objectives or language structures. Teachers can foster student engagement by creating a supportive classroom atmosphere where students feel valued via positive relationships with their classmates and their teacher. This interpersonal connectivity might not be able to be achieved via gamification and would rely on the teacher’s skill in creating a cohesive learning group early on in the semester.

    In terms of ‘Game Thinking’, for ESL student groups I would apply this to content assimilation. The goal for this is to achieve a working knowledge the content covered as a precursor to the demonstration of skills – reading, writing, thinking, speaking.

    1. Hi Lyndall,
      I agree with you that teachers play an important and active role in engaging students in the content. I still think gamification can be helpful during the class hours. In fact, if you are engaging your students in a fun way with any game-like elements, you are already gamifying. This includes storytelling, puzzles …
      There are lots of games and activities on the British Council Website for Kids that ESL students can play after class: http://learnenglishkids.britishcouncil.org/en

  2. Gamification could go wrong if there is no reward from the game. As a student I get frustrated when I am asked a whole lot of questions, but no one ever checks the answers, either automatically, or manually. I think: well what did I do all that for?

    I run a course on estimating and reducing carbon emissions This has multiple choice quizzes, bit these are very formal and a bit dull. Perhaps they could be gamified. There might be illustrations of saloons full of CO2, for example. This might be useful for students who just see the quiz, and the whole course, as something to get through.

    1. Hi Tom,
      Yes, exactly right – although there’s quite a difference between medical student course content and that of ESL students! 🙂

  3. Gamification goes wrong if there is a “bug” in the game, so some participants can “cheat” and win the game. I do have an example where the game mechanism was not well-designed, and the competition turned out to be very depressing for both the lecturer and most of the students.
    As a gamer, this espresso course offers a new perspective to review the games I have played and to incorporate their merits into my teaching. Thank you for sharing, Patrick~

  4. Perhaps it says something about my personality or my experience in gaming, but I think that win/loose isn’t always the most meaningful driver. In my experience of being part of a learning game and also running one in a class I used to tutor in, it has been the role playing aspect that has been integral to students internalising an understanding about a concept and when they have that moment of “ohhhh now I understand” then you can absolutely see people light up. Now granted I am talking about gaming to facilitate understandings of complex issues, rather than more tedious skills/knowledge mastery that might need more overt prizes for winning but I think students value the learning as much or more than just winning. There may be certain specific instances where a gaming approach might not be suitable but I’m not really sure there are any courses where gamification couldn’t be appropriate in some way – it’s essentially a process of making achieving learning outcomes fun and meaningful to students.

  5. Hi Lyndall and Patrick
    I agree with both of you on the importance of creating a supportive classroom atmosphere. But I think gamification can be instrumental in this. When I have my students ‘compete’ against each other in small teams, I make them come up with a team name (sometimes a slogan too). This is a great icebreaker, because they’ll start thinking about what they have in common or start joking with each other. And because during the game/quiz/activity they have to work as a team, they get to know each other better.
    But games don’t always have to be competitive, they can also be collaborative! An icebreaker activity that I use in my lower-level ESL classes goes like this. I start by saying “My name is Melde, and I have one sister. If somebody here also has a sister, come stand next to me”. That person then says “My name is X, and like Melde I have one sister. And I Iike playing chess. If you like playing chess, come stand next to me.” The goal is to form a circle with all the students – so this is a game that requires collaborative effort (we’re all winners, and we have discovered that everybody has something in common with a classmate!)

    1. Hi Melde, I really appreciate the comment about games being collaborative, not just competitive. I don’t personally find competition in the classroom to work for me (as a student or a teacher), and this is one of my concerns or hesitations around using gamification. But the collaborative approach is one that appeals a lot more to me. I think there is already a lot of competition in higher ed and I’d like to foster a more collaborative approach in my own class spaces. 🙂

      1. Thanks! I guess that’s because neither of us are “killers” 😉
        By the way, there are lots of really good collaborative boardgames out there that are great for the ESL classsroom – Story Dice, Once Upon a Time, Black Stories, …

  6. I agree that competition in the classroom might not be very constructive for some students. However, it probably would be helpful for students to be competing against themselves – trying to beat PBs, for example. One thing I do wonder is, if it is not well designed or very engaging, some students may find it patronising or trivialising – especially mature-age students who may be expecting more traditional pedagogical methods.
    I have considered introducing quizzes in my courses. Several times, I’ve created paper questionnaires for students to take into exhibitions (I teach art history). The questions force students to look at works and to think about them carefully. It would be possible to turn some of these into quizzes, perhaps, although a multiple-choice quiz wouldn’t work for subjective analysis.

  7. This course has made me realize how many gamification design concepts were already worked into my undergrad degree. From weekly quizzes to lab work to aural music leaderboards. I really like the idea of comparing how much you’ve improved and essentially trying to beat your own high score as it reduces the negative impacts while promoting self-motivation. I also appreciated how this course highlighted the fact that gamification should primarily be used as a tool to increase student’s participation and motivation – not turn Phys1101 into the next D&D campaign.

  8. The gamification must comply with the social code of conduct, and hence I think gamifying some more serious topics (e.g., teaching about mental health) might not be appropriate; if sarcasm and jokes are sometimes hard to understand, I can just see how the unintended meanings might lead into trouble in this context. I am not saying this would be impossible — rather that the effort needed to design and pilot testing of the gamified content carefully might be better spent doing something else.

  9. Gamification could easily be used to help student remember otherwise boring or tedious content (such as vocabulary in a language course). Games could also be used for more advanced language skills rather than purely memorisation. For example, one game I enjoyed as a student was a paraphrasing game. The first student says a sentence (e.g. climate change is a pressing issue today) and the next student has to think of a way to paraphrase this idea (e.g. global warming is a serious problem, e.g. we need to do something about climate change!). This continues until the students run out of ideas for new sentences. At the end, you discuss the differences between the sentences in your group, and any significant differences in meaning, tone, register etc.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *