Gamification is an approach to motivating students to learn by incorporating game elements into the learning environment. These game mechanics can be used as motivational tools to encourage student engagement and achievement.
Some online courses that incorporate game mechanics provide students with a self-paced, adaptive, or non-linear path through the course material. In other courses, students may be required to reach specific goals (for example, a certain percentage of mastery on an assignment or quiz) to gain access to the next learning materials, or can be provided a leveling-up system or badges to provide motivation and a sense of accomplishment throughout the course. In some cases competition is encouraged via a class leaderboard, though grades must not be the metric by which the competition is measured, since grades must be kept private.
Several higher education institutions are integrating aspects of gamification into existing learning management systems (LMSs)  or building their own gamified LMS . These are larger scale projects, but in this tool page we will provide suggestions for how to include game elements in any online course using only the tools already available within standard LMSs.
Application to All Courses
With some creativity, game mechanics can be incorporated into educational contexts, in learning as well as in assessment.
Here are some examples of how teachers can use gamification to encourage learning in the online classroom:
- Assignment Choice – Allow students to select the type of assessment they prefer for a given objective or set of objectives.
- Provide Multiple Paths – Allow students to select their route through course material based on their preferred learning method.
- Focus on Mastery – Allow multiple attempts on quizzes but require mastery (minimum percentage to move on), or define ‘levels’ of assessment in each module that step up the Bloom’s Taxonomy ladder, and make these an expected part of each unit.
- Define Achievements (Excellent Peer Review, Most Valuable Discussion Post, Student Coach, etc.) and recognize students who meet these standards via weekly announcement, through a personal message, or utilizing a graphic badge.
- Implement a class-wide rewards system. For example:
- If 25% of the class attends the synchronous exam review, the class unlocks a bonus discussion that is purely community-building, and the instructor and all TAs will actively participate.
- Award points to discussion groups who complete their posts and replies 100% on time and allow them to “cash” points in for something at the end of the semester.
- Students who earn the Most Valuable Discussion Post achievement 3 times during the semester are allowed to design and moderate the final class discussion themselves.
- Give students a perk which is theirs to lose if they do not participate as expected. (For an example, see Basu, T. (2016) in Supporting Research below.)
Before you gamify an online course, keep in mind that course design should always be an interactive process, and that it’s not necessary or recommended to make numerous changes at one time. Start small, assess how a game mechanic worked during the semester, and adjust for the next. Always remember to:
- Maintain privacy of student grades at all times.
- Factor in the instructor-time necessary to implement any game mechanics you intend to incorporate.
- Check that any software application you want to use is already integrated into the LMS, and has passed the security vetting process.
- Determine whether your LMS can handle the design you have in mind.
- Consult with an instructional designer if you have questions.
Consider the outcome you hope to achieve in gamifying your course. Do the mechanics you plan to include help to create an active learning environment, and do the activities you are asking students to participate in align with the learning objectives you have set out for them? While these materials may make a course more fun for students, the goal should always be to improve their learning.