Gamifying Higher Ed Learning

Although gamification of courses is not a new topic, many instructors have still not attempted to implement this great instructional method. Recently, I attended a talk at Duke University, where Enrique Cachafeiro shared his expertise of gamifying training and educational material.  (You can view Enrique’s presentation here).

Enrique reminded us that context + content = learning. The context refers to the space and medium in which the learning is taking place (e.g., the online learning management system, a lecture) and the content refers to what is being learned. By making the context a game, students may be more engaged and motivated to study the content, which will produce learning.

To gamify a lesson or course, one must impart the aspects of game. These aspects include:

  • clear objectives that act as rules
  • progress tracking that results in rewards
  • user choice
  • scaffolding of the material in the game
  • repetition of material.

It is important to remember that gamification does not necessarily imply digital games. Analog games, utilizing regular materials such as paper and cardboard, count too!

See the infographic below for a brief overview of the history of game-based learning, game theory, and uses in education (click the image to go to the source).


Though this may seem like a lot, gamification operates on a spectrum. Instructors can incorporate only one or two elements of games in their courses or lessons, or they can make the entire context of the classroom be a game. It is recommended that instructors start small, with only a single game for a single lesson, and add on games as they encounter success.

To get started with gamification, examine a lesson you have taught in the past. Reflect on the following questions:

  1. What were the learning objectives?
  2. How did you meet the learning objectives?
  3. Could those learning objectives be tied to a reward?
  4. Could the lesson be broken down into progressive steps or objectives?

When gamifying a lesson, the learning objectives are the outcome of the game. The progressive steps or objectives form the game map, which the user follows to get to the final destination and achieve the learning outcomes.

Keep in mind that games can be simple. For example, this game uses only a chalkboard.  Games can also be more complex and use digital tools such as Voicethread (view these 3 blogs to see how to successfully make more complex tools using Voicethread).

Furthermore, several free web tools now exist that easily turn content into a game. Check out Kahoot, Quizlet (Quizlet Live is the cooperative game), and Socrative.

Happy gaming!

1 thought on “Gamifying Higher Ed Learning”

  1. Pingback: New Year, New Course: a Series on Course Redesign | Instructional Design That Works

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