Tips to get started with gamification

John Sherman

Want a sure-fire way to ensure students are fully involved in your course? Make it into a game!

Gamification. That’s the name given to the application of game-design to non-traditional gaming areas. Simply put, it’s the way that educators are reusing techniques that promote continued engagement between player and game, in educational arenas rather than video games.


This sounds complex but it really isn’t. Gamification of your online course can be as uncomplicated as rewarding learners based on how well they accomplish desired tasks, or as far-reaching as actually designing and making a video game yourself.

In this article, we’ll offer some tips and advice on how to use gamification to improve the participation in your eLearning classroom.

The rules of the game

One common thread that all good games share is that their rules are straight-forward, logical, and easy to follow. Another common thread of all good games is that the way you play the game is set out from the first roll of the dice, or click of the mouse.

It’s important for your learners to understand how they can earn points and merit through their participation in the course; if they don’t then they’ll be confused and quickly turn away. And this is easy enough to do. Before the start of any course, offer a quick introduction to the points-based process, how they can earn achievements and the awards on offer when each achievement is accomplished.

Games with really complicated rules are never fun to play – make yours simple and accessible.

Reward and punish

Remember that though the introduction of gamification into your course is intended to make the learning process more entertaining and immersive, your intention is still to teach that outcome. Among the fun and frolics of gamification, this core need can sometimes be forgotten.

The most effective method to reach this desired learning outcome is to reward good behaviors and punish mistakes.

An example of this is that students could earn points for correctly remembering the last lesson’s takeaway. And points should mean prizes. They could unlock special badges to add to their resume or another small but inviting offer.

Punishments should not be excessive, but students should not be allowed to pass a stage of the course until they have satisfied learning criteria. Perhaps they could be given a certain amount of “lives” and they must return to the start of the stage if they run out.

The point is this: reward the exhibiting of desired learning outcomes. This way, students will both enjoy and learn.

Cater for competition

Everyone enjoys heightening the stakes, making things a little more interesting. Use colleague’s natural competitiveness to your advantage – they’ll learn more and have fun doing it.

One way to do this is to create a mini league and award points based on results in the course each student is taking. The leagues can be split between department, course subject, or simply a group of friends who want some friendly competition.

It’s important for participants to know the criteria before they embark, so give them a rundown of how they’ll earn points and what the rewards and consequences will be for those who finish top and bottom.

Always remember to keep students learning objectives in mind so that no one strays off the path, but with a well-constructed league, your students should be chomping at the bit to earn some points and beat their colleagues!

Brand the best

Like video games, your course can offer a variety of skills, badges or honors to constantly promote the search for more knowledge (and points) for the effort of the student’s endeavors.

These badges can be given out at specific intervals, after student’s exhibit and carry out a desired learning outcome. So if, for example, you’ve been teaching a stage on licensing and permit compliance, then the students can sit a quiz or small exam to show their understanding of the knowledge acquired. If they do well then they’re given the “Compliance Rock Star” badge.

There are many ways to implement this for whichever course is being taught, but the important point is that the students who have completed sections of the course well are identified through these badges, skills or honors. This way, students can be proud of what they have done.

And if you wanted to really make it worth their while, students could receive real-life bonuses for every badge they receive. Maybe an extra day of paid vacation, or vouchers for a local restaurant. Make sure their hard work is rewarded.

Track those goals

For any gamer worth their salt, the progress tracker is a vital tool in easily seeing their personal progress in-game. Best sellers like Call of Duty use the progress tracker as a way of encouraging players to continue playing and achieving the goals that they work towards. And so can you. With a visual reminded, learners can see how close they are to unlocking that next badge, or acquiring those precious points!

The progress tracker is easy enough to include in your course and can be used in two ways. Firstly, each stage of the course can have a small progress “live” progress bar so that learners can see their points racking up as they progress. This can be as simple as an empty bar that fills as points are collected. Once the bar is full, bang, you win a badge!

The second use is for a macro impression of the course, used to give students a general impression of where they are in the course and how much is still left to do. Here you can offer the badges that will give real-life awards.

The intention of the tracker is to encourage students to continue learning. Make sure the work is worth their while!


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