Let’s assume you already know the “whys” behind gamification in education: why it works, why it’s backed by research, and why so many teachers love it.
Now, let’s focus on the next step: how to gamify your classroom.
While there are a range of different methods and opinions on the best ways to do it, we’ve performed the research and broken down five actionable steps to gamify education.
Step 1: Assess your students
a) Identify your students’ trouble spots
Pinpointing student trouble spots and pain points will help you determine the best gamification strategies for your classroom.
For example, if you notice PowerPoint presentations disengage students, you can add interactive elements.
Similar to an open-world game or choose-your-own-adventure book, include prompts at the bottom of each slide that let students choose the next one. This allows them to influence the lesson’s flow.
Most importantly, identifying student issues will put them at the forefront of your gamified learning strategy.
b) Survey your class
Just as marketers survey their target markets before gamifying their products, you should survey your class to determine the best ways to engage them.
The purpose is to understand the games your students play, and guide your subsequent research into gaming. This, in turn, will help you align the gamification elements you introduce with their interests. Keeping students actively involved in the education gamification process will allow for greater engagement and retention.
For example, if the majority of your students play role-playing games (RPGs) such as Pokémon, you may implement potions — in the form of stickers — as a reward for completing assignments. Used in RPGs to heal injuries sustained by the player’s character, students could exchange one with you for extra help on assignments — or something to that effect.
By using aspects from their favourite games, you should see a favourable response to gamification in education.
Step 2: Define learning goals
a) Set learning and behavior goals
To gamify education, deploy clearly-defined objectives in the form of learning and behavior goals that address the trouble spots and pain points you identified.
Learning goals include helping students understand concepts and develop skills.
Behavior goals involve helping students concentrate and work efficiently.
For example, you may set a learning goal to have students master a specific skill by a certain deadline. A behaviour goal may focus on empowering students to tune out classroom distractions.
Although these goals can remain private, they’ll help guide the gamified learning experience – a key to making sure you gamify your classroom effectively.
b) Structure open projects to help meet these goals
Video games typically allow players to make choices that challenge them and suit their abilities, so consider offering choices when it comes to projects.
As long as they serve the same academic purpose — such as demonstrating knowledge of a particular topic — allow students to complete the project as a:
- Creative piece
- Paper or essay
- Unique product that’s appropriate for the given topic
Presenting choices encourages students to test themselves in new ways and demonstrate their strong suits.
In doing so, you’ll learn more about their distinct learning styles, which can help you structure future lessons.
Step 3: Structure the gamified learning experience
a) Adjust your scoring system
Many students see their marks as the most nerve-wracking part of school.
So, the gamification of education should involve modifying how you present grades, highlighting progress instead of mistakes.
On tests and assignments, you can give scores both traditionally and in the form of experience points (XP).
You can also award XP for completing extra-curricular assignments, participating in class or anything else that demonstrates an effort to learn.
For example, if a student scores 75% on a quiz, give them 7,500 XP.
You’ll add this amount to the XP they’ve earned throughout the year, giving them a clear reference point to see how much they’ve learned and accomplished.
This gamification element helps change how they look at grades — instead of going downhill from 100%, they’re going uphill from zero XP.
b) Use “stages”
Similarly, you can change how you refer to topics and units, clearly illustrating skill-building progression.
Try calling them stages.
Whereas topics and units have clear implications for teachers, students may not easily see how they fit together.
On the other hand, it may be natural for students — especially gamers — to understand that to reach the next stage you have to overcome precursory challenges.
You can emphasize this by framing certain tasks as prerequisites to reach the next stage.
Unless students do homework, participate in class and complete quizzes, they won’t be ready for its challenges.
Step 4: Identify resources
a) Create a manual and organize teams
Creating and distributing an instruction manual is not only a way of gamifying a rubric or course outline, but acclimating students to the gamification of learning in general.
Instruction manuals — either digital or physical — come with almost every video game. They explain how to play and progress, sometimes including tips and secrets.
Your version should contain information such as:
- How stages work
- The kinds of assignments that students will tackle
- Your new scoring system, including the ways students can gain XP
- How students can obtain rewards, and what kinds of rewards are available
It will act as a reference for students, explaining what they must do to succeed in a gamified learning environment.
b) Organize studying and learning teams
Dividing students into studying or learning teams not only opens the door to group work and collaboration, but helps replicate a core element of almost any game — instant, adaptive feedback.
After a player makes a choice in a game, he or she will quickly learn if it was correct. Especially when handling a full class, you can’t provide observations at the same rate.
But peer feedback can hasten the process.
Devote a brief lesson to teach students about sharing constructive criticism, encouraging them to actively give comments while working in teams.
You can provide support and insight as needed to strengthen this fast feedback loop.
Step 5: Apply gamification elements
a) Make Progress Visible
Displaying student progress and how much they’ve achieved since the start of the year is a social element of gamification in education, promoting a sense of student community.
You can create and share a bar chart that contains each student’s progress towards mastering a skill.
Whenever a student achieves a certain score on a quiz or completes homework and assignments, you can fill in his or her appropriate skill-mastery bar with the amount of XP they earned.
Because most teachers keep these charts posted on walls or boards for students to see, consider allowing them to submit code-names for themselves that suit the game’s narrative. This way, your class won’t know who’s struggling and excelling.
But they’ll still be motivated to complete their progress bars, building essential skills in the process.
b) Offer rewards
To combine gamification and learning in a way that truly engages students, you should strongly consider giving rewards.
Research shows that reward systems in gamified education encourage students to acknowledge their accomplishments and continue to progress.
This is a mechanic used in most modern video games — players receive trophies for completing certain tasks.
It is also a feature of the Khan Academy. The online learning resource incentivizes students by awarding points and badges as they watch videos and answer problems.
The more difficult the task and lofty the achievement, the larger the reward.
You can hand out your rewards-of-choice accordingly, giving small badges for completing an assignment and larger ones for — as an example — having perfect attendance over the course of a unit.
This hallmark element of contemporary gaming plays a key role in creating an engaging experience, continuously incentivizing and motivating students.
Benefits of gamification in education
While researchers and teachers around the world have given a range of answers to this question, a great deal of them can all be boiled down into one simple sentence.
Gamification makes learning fun.
And while “making learning fun” can sound vague or cliché, research has shown that gamification in schools can help students with issues related to:
- Focus — Students who have a hard time focusing may find it easier when tackling an engaging topic.
- Skill-Building — Students can shy away from building certain skills until they see the relevancy.
- Content Delivery — Students may have trouble processing content presented through traditional methods, such as textbooks.
Based on the above strategies, you may have determined that the gamification in education has inherent benefits such as:
- Engagement — It may seem obvious that most students would enjoy gamified exercises. A 2011 study from a South Korean university investigated this notion, measuring student engagement depending on the activity they were doing. Researchers found that gamification indeed correlates with more motivation and engagement.
- Tangible Progress — Progress indicators, such as skill-mastery charts, allow your students to clearly see how much they’ve learned. The idea of filling one of these charts can serve as further motivation.
- Increased Comfort — Take a quick poll to see how many of your students are gamers. Odds are, they would be more comfortable in a gamified environment than a classroom without any sort of differentiation.
- Improved Retention — It doesn’t explicitly apply to elementary education, but a popular book called Corporate Universities posits that interactive learning games can boost long-term knowledge retention rates “by up to 10 times.”
- Resilience to Failure — Often, players must fail before succeeding in a game. Borrowing this concept, by allowing students to re-do certain assessments, can teach that failure isn’t always an end-point. Instead, it’s another step in the learning process.
- Near-Instant Feedback — Students should quickly correct each other’s mistakes when you’re not available, as long as you’ve taught them how to do so.
- Consistent Homework Completion — A book called Gamification in Education: Breakthroughs in Research and Practice, suggests gamification can make homework as appealing as games, capturing students’ attention and willingness to learn more outside of the classroom. You’ll likely find that more students regularly complete homework if you award XP for it.
If you’re on the fence, the benefits make a compelling case for the gamification of education.
Examples of gamification in education
If you want an established education gamification model to follow or borrow ideas from, the most robust example is Quest To Learn (Q2L).
A public school in New York, its curricula are rooted in gamification and game-based learning principles. For example, 9th grade students in biology class are workers in a fictional bio-tech company, cloning dinosaurs. There are common game-like practices across courses, too. For example, teachers refer to sub-par products as “iterations.” Students typically get chances to improve these iterations, working to achieve high grades.
But if you want to gamify your classroom with ready-made examples, consider using programs such as:
- Free Rice — Spanning subjects found in most curricula, this website gamifies fact fluency. And it uses an empathetic twist. For each question a player correctly answers, Free Rice donates 10 grains of the cereal to those with limited food access. Gratification is instant, and there are leaderboards to motivate competitive students.
- Ribbon Hero — This Microsoft Office integration helps elementary students familiarize themselves with the software suite’s features. Players must complete guided challenges within Word, Excel, OneNote or PowerPoint, continuously reaching higher levels with increasingly-complex scenarios. In doing so, they’ll become proficient Office users.
- World Peace Game — An engaging supplement to your interdisciplinary teaching efforts, this tabletop game is a political simulation. The goal is to free countries from dangerous political, economic and environmental situations. To extricate these countries, students group together to represent specific nations and find solutions to diverse problems.
Armed with these examples, gamifying education should be a more straightforward venture.
Final thoughts on gamification in education
If you gamify your classroom, you can bring benefits such as increased motivation and engagement to your students.
Keep in mind, there’s room to experiment regarding what you gamify. Just because students aren’t receptive to gamified lessons, doesn’t mean gamified projects will disengage them.
Ask for student feedback to hasten this process and guide your efforts.