Instructional Trend Spotlight: Gamification
Many of you are busy teaching and/or working and don’t have a lot of time to research trends in education technology and online learning. To save you time, we’ll be periodically sending out snapshots of instructional trends to keep you in the know.

Instructional Trend Spotlight: Gamification

by Heather Leslie

Gamification Definition and History

The use of games have long been used as a teaching and learning tool. Chess was used in the Middle Ages to teach war strategies to noblemen. Games are fun for people because they are a form of play, a desire for which develops in childhood. Games allow us to use our imagination, take on challenges, and earn rewards. Gamification, then, is an approach to motivate students to learn by using game design and game elements in a learning environment (Kapp, 2012). Gamification elements go back to schools using grades and marks as a system to motivate and reward students to perform well on tests and assignments. This system uses a behavioral approach to motivate students to behave in certain ways. The term ‘gamification’ was coined in 2002 as a multidimensional approach that incorporates psychology, design, strategy, and technology (Werbach, 2012). Gaming elements can include points, digital badges, and leaderboards to motivate and track behavior in online platforms. Games can develop cognitive skills as well as non-cognitive skills such as patience and discipline (Mackay, 2013) and are not only engaging for children but can also be engaging for adults (Prensky, 2001).


Prevalence of Gamification

The gaming industry and gamification of learning has grown significantly in which 97% of kids play video games, making gamification an effective way to keep students engaged (Sanders, 2015). According to a survey conducted, 70% of teachers said they saw an increase in student engagement when using educational video games (Sanders, 2015). Gamification has been used by early adopters and has yet to make its way into mainstream online college courses but this could evolve as more professors see the benefits of engaging students through games (Toyama, 2015) especially as games are used to help students learn new knowledge and skills (Aburahma & Mohamed, 2015).

Merits & Issues of Gamification

Some would argue that a good teacher uses tricks to elicit student performance when motivation is lacking. Many teachers use candy or other rewards to motivate. Gamification follows the same line of thinking in which students get rewards such as points when they complete an activity or assignment. Some argue that using these kind of rewards feeds extrinsic motivation, rather than an intrinsic desire to learn. But some seek knowledge for its own sake and others seek to learn as part of vocational preparation, for example. Not everyone will feel intrinsically motivated about what they are learning all the time even if they still have to learn it.

Support of Gamification

Proponents of gamification argue that today’s students (and future students) have spent their entire lives surrounded by computers, video games, and other toys and tools of the digital age (Toyama, 2015). These learners have been referred to as “digital natives” and are accustomed to interacting with highly engaging digital content. Therefore, gamification is something that they are used to and enjoy. Utilizing this approach to “speak the language” of the learner, may produce more engagement and better performance by students. Opponents of gamification believe that courses and universities shouldn’t cater to students who lack instrinsic motivation, interest, and curiosity on their own (Toyama, 2015). A deep philosophical question is at the heart of this debate on whether universities and faculty should engage students where

they are or expect students to come with a source of intrinsic motivation (Toyama, 2015).There is no substitute for intrinsic motivation. When someone genuinely loves what they are leaning and is energized by it, they will have the best experience and will likely perform well. Others may need motivational help and games or gaming elements can be one way to engage students in learning.


Aburahma, M.H. & Mohamed, H.M. (2015, May 25). Educational games as a teaching tool in pharmacy curriculum. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 79(4): 59. Retrieved from:

Kapp, K. (2012). The gamification of learning and instruction: Game-based methods and

strategies for training and education. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.

Mackay, R.F. (2013, March 1). Playing to learn: Panelists at Stanford discussion say using games as an educational tool provides opportunities for deep learning. Retrieved from Stanford News:

Prensky, M. (2001). Fun, play and games: What makes games engaging? In M. Prensky, Digital game-based learning. Retrieved from:

Sanders, J. (2015, April 27). By the numbers: 10 stats on the growth of gamification. Retrieved

from Games and Learning:


Toyama, K. (2015, October 29). The looming gamification of higher education. Retrieved from The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Werbach, K. (2012). For the win: How game thinking can revolutionize your business.

Philadelphia, PA: Wharton Digital.