Many professors have been using some form of gaming in their classroom for years, this is not a new phenomenon but gamification is not just adding a game to the class. Gamification is the process of taking lessons you have already created (not games) or new lessons and integrating game mechanics to motivate students to participate and engage in the content. Game designers are trained in techniques to engage players and these techniques can be applied to non-game experiences to motivate actions and add value to your message. Gamification is not always about creating something new, it is about adding the motivational techniques that work so well in games leveraging the impulses and desires that exist in people.

Some techniques used in gamification include:

  • Leaderboards – Individual or team standings for a challenge or goal gives students purpose and can educate them about the value and possibilities in a learning experience
  • Fast Feedback – notifications of progress or congratulations for reaching a goal. This can encourage a student to take the next step to a milestone or try to earn a reward.
  • Acknowledging accomplishments – Indicate mastery of a skill or learning competency in a meaningful way that is visible to the learning community
  • Leveling – Levels indicate sustained achievement. Levels can be used to unlock new activities or gain some type of reward or badge
  • Collaboration – Create challenges that require students to join forces and share knowledge to contribute to group success

Game design principles in non-game problems or challenges still play on the psychology that drives human engagement. You have probably participated in a form of gamification at some point this week — you present your coffee club card each time you visit 7-eleven to earn a free cup of coffee, you expand your LinkedIn profile to bring the progress bar to 100%, or you take the long way to your car to reach your goal on your fitness tracking device.

Examples of how gamification can be used in a class:

  • Allow students to benefit from failures or level-up. Students put too much emphasis on grades, sometimes more so than faculty expect, which oftentimes discourages them from taking chances. Making mistakes and learning from them is part of the game mentality and a valuable skill that many students do not learn in the classroom because they are afraid of the consequences to their grade. Using a system of badging allows students to fail, overcome, and persevere. Students that may not do well or fail at a task still earn a badge that can be swapped for a higher level when they achieve mastery. This motivates the students to work harder to gain the knowledge and skills needed to progress to the next level.
  • Create a point system that translates into a final grade for the semester. Students accumulate points by how much they have accomplished. Students are trying to progress toward a level of mastery similar to a game. Experience points and levels can be aligned with skills and emphasize the value of the material. (Lee Sheldon, a professor at Indiana University)
  • Create competition and a sense of community with class tournaments. This competitive atmosphere incentivizes students to practice and learn. A competition can add energy to the classroom and using a tool like a polling system allows both introverts and extroverts to compete at the same level. Take this technique a step further by creating a leaderboard so students can see their standings in the class community (Celine Petsche, School of Business at Wilfrid Laurier University)
  • Set goals for your class and offer rewards or badges, for example, if 90% of the class scores an 85 or better on an exam, the entire class gets an extra credit point (or whatever you decide is appropriate). This fosters a helping atmosphere because all students want their classmates to do well to reap the rewards.

Critics of gamification argue that these techniques stifle a student’s intrinsic motivation to learn but, at the end of the day, most students are attending college to secure employment which is incentivized by a paycheck