Gamification in e-learning


Gamification is not a new concept and has been growing in popularity over time. Many schools around the world face major problems around student motivation and engagement. The incorporation of Gamification, or of game elements into non-game contexts, provides an opportunity for Schools, Universities and the teaching staff to solve these difficult problems. Therefore it is important to understand what gamification is, how it works, and why they should use it to achieve higher engagement while teaching in an  e Learning environment. The aim of this research is to help teachers/faculty staff and online tutors to understand how they can apply game techniques and elements in their online course to raise their student’s/participants engagement, especially while using e-learning methodologies like designing their Online /Blended learning courses or using it as a motivational aspect to engage student when applying it in a Flipping Classroom concept.
Keywords: Gamification, eLearning, Game mechanics.

Table of Contents

2. What is Gamification?
2.2 Gamification vs. Game based learning
2.3 The evolution of Gamification
3. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation
4. Gaming elements which can facilitate learning
5. The effectiveness of Gamification in eLearning
5.1 The benefits of gamification in elearning and online teaching
6. Classification of Gamification
7. Evaluation of adding game like elements
8. Gaming elements and key design consideration for eLearning.
8.1 Linear Goal Progression
`8.2 Nonlinear Goal Progression
9. System design
9.1 The cognitive area
9.2 The emotional area
9.2.1 Flow Channels
9.3 The social area
9.4 Measuring Progress
9.4.1 Character Upgrades
9.4.2 Virtual Coach
9.4.3 Rewarding Effort (not just success)
9.4.4 Reward Schedules
10. Conclusion
List of Literature


The gamification of learning is an approach which has recently evolved, in coordination with technological developments, to include much larger scales for gameplay, new tools, and new ways to connect people. There is no doubt today that computer
Mitchell/ Savill‐Smith
Van Eck 2006) Games can provide more effective learning by bringing more fun, appealing, and learner-centred environments (Ebner & Holzinger, 2007; Prensky, 2001). Research shows that the new generation of students are different from former generation’s students, mostly because of the changes in the way they consume media and patterns (Bourgonjon, Valcke, Soetaert & Schellens, 2009). This generation of students grew up using hypertexts, a variety of social networking sites and video games. They have gained specific technical skills, a new way of thinking and different learning preferences, which of course require a new educational approach (Oblinger & Oblinger, 2005; Prensky, 2011; Bourgonjon et al, 2009). The school children of today from the elementary stage through college, travel with their own personal PSP’s , cell phones, and MP3 players, laptops and Internet connections, most of which are within their own personal budgets. These new digital technologies caused “mind alterations” or “cognitive changes “ and have led to a variety of new needs and preferences on the part of the younger generation, particularly in the area of learning. Don Tapscott’s research in 2008 shows that these people are “learning, playing, communicating, working and creating communities very differently than their parents, the “older technology” people who grew up in a world dominated by print. Those who were stuck in the middle – also referred to as „Generation X“ – have grown up with each foot in a different technological world. They are often extremely disoriented and depressed. The so called „Generation Y“ who grew up with technology are totally comfortable with it and do not know any other way. They are also excited by its possibilities. This is why the teachers from Generation X sometimes are not connected enough with Generation Y in the way they should. This also might be due to the different learning experiences they have. Jane McGonigal the famous game designer believes that if teachers can successfully organize their classroom and curriculum activities to incorporate the game elements students might get more engaged with the content in a way that facilitate such confidence. She also describes Video game players as urgent optimists, who are part of the social fabric, engaged in blissful productivity and looking out for epic meaning. These digital natives‘ tend to behave differently from those who came before them. They are less concerned about privacy, share openly, and are mostly mobile. Therefore learning for this generation and characteristics should be leveraged and assisted through gamification.

2. What is Gamification?


Although the term „gamification“ was coined in 2002 by Nick Pelling, a British-born computer programmer and inventor, it did not gain popularity until 2010. In 2010 the term gained widespread usage, referring to the incorporation of social/reward aspects of games into software. (JP Mangalindan Sep, 2010). In his notes with the title „Thinking about Gamification in Learning and Instruction“ Karl Kapp writes about the different definitions he found about this term. Gamification has been defined as the “process of using game thinking and mechanics to engage audiences and solve problems” (Zichermann, 2010) as “using game techniques to make activities more engaging and fun”(Kim, 2011) and as “using game-based mechanics, aesthetics and game thinking to engage people, motivate action, promote learning, and solve problems” (Kapp, 2012). Others have also defined it as“ the use of game mechanics, dynamics and frameworks to promote desired behaviours“ (Lee and Hammer, 2011) as well as „the use of game-play mechanics for non-game applications“ (Deterding et al, 2011)
Brian Burke one of the researcher and analysts at Gartner, has published a new definition as a way to redefine it in the digital era. He defines it as: “The use of game mechanics and experience design to digitally engage and motivate people to achieve their goals”
He explained the key elements of his definition with the following:
• Game mechanics describes the use of elements such as points, badges and leaderboards that are common to many games.
• Experience design describes the journey players take with elements such as game play, play space and story line.
• Gamification is a method to digitally engage, rather than personally engage, meaning that players interact with computers, smartphones, wearable monitors or other digital devices, rather than engaging with a person.
• The goal of gamification is to motivate people to change behaviors or develop skills, or to drive innovation.
• Gamification focuses on enabling players to achieve their goals. When organizational or educational goals are aligned with player goals, the organization or educational institution achieves its goals as a consequence of players achieving their goals.

2.2 Gamification vs. Game based learning

Although the terms Gamification and Game based Learning (GBL) have been used interchangeably, they are 2 different approaches to transforming social situations with game-like experiences.
Gamification turns the entire learning process into a game. It takes game mechanics and gameplay elements and applies them to existing learning courses and content in order to better motivate and engage learners.
• Achievement badges
• Points
• Leaderboard
• Progress bars
• Levels/quest
Game-Based Learning (GBL) is using a game as a part of the learning process. GBL is aimed at teaching a discrete skill or specific learning outcome, rather than being a complete pedagogical system.

2.3 The evolution of Gamification

Gamification-historyMarc Prensky 2001, has written in his book „Digital game based learning“ about the evolution of Gamification and how learners have changed through the years by playing. He started by mentioning the very first commercial video game called „Pong“ that appeared in 1974. Many children at that time were watching Sesame Street as a daily part of their intellectual life. Sesame Street held their attention as it taught them day after day and year after year. In „The Tipping point“ a book written by Malcolm Gladwell, he writes this statement „if you can hold the attention of children, you can educate them.“ Of course it was fun for them to watch this kind of program. This connection between fun and learning has been part of half of this generation. Space invaders and Star war were the first video games that followed especially after the movie that was shown with the same name. It was the „Joystick Nation“ as J.C Herz wrote in her Book. In 1990 computers began entering the classroom, so too did more advanced gamification techniques. Games such as Math Blaster were introduced to children at that time to a great effect, but criticism were made that these games were too difficult to link with the curriculum and were too focused on the repetitive practice of a small set of skills such as addition and subtraction. (Gamification in e-learning,2013). It was the year 2002 when the „Serious Games“ Initiative played a greater role in helping to organize and accelerate the adoption of computer games for a variety of challenges facing the world, especially in the U.S Military.
Karl Kapp in his book „The Gamification of Learning and Instruction“ published in 2013 describes the function of videos games through the following:
“ To advance through and succeed in a game; “constitutional or foundational rules,” which typically only programmers understand, are the mathematical structures that enable the game to function; “implicit rules” or “behavioral rules” advance the proper interactions among players; and “instructional rules” embody the information players should learn from playing the game. That is the primary purpose of gamification. Players usually compete against one another though sometimes they cooperate; in both cases, rules delineate their actions.“

3. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation

It’s essential to understand the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in order to understand the principles of effective gamification. Extrinsic motivation relies on external rewards, for example points, bonuses, and badges, to drive achievement. It can be effective if it is used properly. But many gamification experts know that extrinsic motivators, when used alone, can quickly become de-motivating. To create long-term motivation, it is necessary to weave in a strong intrinsic element, providing the students opportunities for competence, relatedness, and agency, as they interact with the provided learning content. Gamification as mentioned above is the use of game-play mechanics for non-game applications (Deterding et al, 2011). This means, that any application, task, process or context can theoretically be gamified. The main goal of Gamification is to rise the engagement of users by using game-like techniques such as scoreboards and personalized fast feedback (Flatla et al, 2011) in order to make people feel more ownership and purpose when engaging with tasks (Pavlus, 2010).These game mechanics can be applied to a learning context to improve retention and recollection of Knowledge, better application and practice of skills, etc. “When people are intrinsically motivated, they tend to be more aware of a wide range of phenomena, while giving careful attention to complexities, inconsistencies, novel events, and unexpected possibilities.” Karl Kapp.
(Figure 1)

4. Gaming elements which can facilitate learning

 digital games
 of learning
 and self
social settings
2007). Humans use a concept ’status‘ to proclaim their accomplishments and rank relative to others, this is why they need symbols of success, which shows their ’status‘ that can be acknowledged by other individuals. This can be achieved by a reward system that involves points, badges that show the players ’status‘. Games also use „levels“, as an easily understandable and clear path of progress through increasing difficult and demanding better improved skills for each level. Individuals like to progress from one level to the other. This is one of the mechanics that make games so addictive. But it also must be made clear what that progression is. There is always a large reward at the end of the game, but there are numerous milestones that mark the progress of each individual towards that larger goal. One of the important elements of games that work well in learning is competition. Statistics and rankings can be used in order to allow the player to judge performance. A measure of ’status‘ is ineffective unless it can be communicated to peers and society. This can be achieved through leaderboards which have an implicit ’status‘ value. Individuals typically strive to have their names up on these boards. This can be a great motivational factor as it allows the learner to check out each other’s performance using a kind of social connection that must be provided within a learning environment which also allows sharing in a limited way. A simple way to approach gamification in learning is to duplicate or integrate some of the digital game world media. Integrating graphics, fluid realistic or authentic animation within an environment that allows the user a level of immersion, which is not typically offered in a conventional learning environment, and could potentially lead to learning improvement. Another scope for personalization that is offered in games and can be adopted in learning is the ability to customize one’s representation within a digital environment, like using avatars or the customization of the user’s own profile.
To summarize the above, the following are elements and principles that can drive gamification in learning:
• Provide ways for users to show ’status‘
• Provide a way for users to compare and rank their relative performance
• Provide clear levels for user progression
• Include elements that encourage competition
• Provide digital immersion to the best extent possible
• Allow for sharing and personalization
The fact that technology is necessary to implement most of the exposed mechanisms makes e-learning platforms an ideal environment for experimentation.

5. The effectiveness of Gamification in eLearning

Traci Sitzmann, A professor from the University of Colorado Denver, studied the effectiveness of gamification over the duration of a year. She collected the data from 6,476 adult participants. Analyzing the data, she found that when learners were presented with training that incorporated simulation and gamification, learning increased in the following ways:
• Skill-based knowledge level increased by 14%
• Factual-knowledge level increased by 11%
• Retention of material learnt increased by 9%

5.1 The benefits of gamification in elearning and online teaching

Based on the research and evidence in neurology, stimulation of various kinds actually changes brain structures and affects the way people think, this transformation goes on throughout life.( Prensky,2001) Games motivate because of their impact on the cognitive, emotional and social areas of players; therefore gamification in education should focus on those three areas (Lee and Hammer, 2011). Concerning the cognitive area, a game provides a complex system of rules along with series of tasks that guide players through a process to master those rules. These tasks are designed as cycles of expertise (Gee, 2003). Through a series of short-term tasks that creates a cycle, that player repeatedly try to complete in a try and fail process until the necessary skill level is acquired. As soon as the player is involved in this learning process, games try to assure that players always know what to do next, and that they have the necessary knowledge to do it. Task sequences are usually non-linear, and players have a certain degree of freedom to choose which tasks to accomplish depending on skill and personal preferences, this makes the learning process customizable.
As explained before Gamification desires to combine intrinsic motivation with extrinsic one in order to raise motivation and engagement. It is used as a simple yet still efficient approach in order to make the content more attractive and engage users, especially in e learning. The limitations of e-learning from a pedagogical point of view are the fact that it cannot transmit emotion or engage the student as a teacher could. For this lack of feeling or emotional interaction, an e-learning system must compensate and try to stimulate learners with other means

6. Classification of Gamification

Gamification can be classified into two broad types of activities:

• Structural Gamification:

This is the application of game elements to eLearning to accelerate a learner through the course materials without making any changes to the course material itself. Rather, the structure around the content changes. For example, the learner gains points for course completion and certification. The point collection among all learners is tracked either by enterprise or business skill or department and posted to a leaderboard for competitive standing that may ultimately lead to some form of reward or recognition.

• Content Gamification:

This is where the injection of games or game-like elements is integrated into the courseware itself. Examples could be starting a course with a challenge rather than objectives alone, or adding timed questions for point collection. These elements do not necessarily change the structure of the course overall into a game. They do, however, add context to make the courses feel more game-like.

7. Evaluation of adding game like elements

There are several critical issues that one must consider when evaluating the value of adding game-like elements to course content:
• The course goals – what’s driving the need to enhance your content with the inclusion of gamification elements? Is it improving a skill or a particular performance, for example?
• The culture of the learning community – is the learning community ready for this type of learning experience?
• The type of content – can gamification elements be easily added to the content or should a structural solution only be considered?
• „The level of learning, you are trying to achieve (Bloom’s Taxonomy) – if content gamification elements are to be used, how will this impact the level of learning being achieved? Does this need to be a consideration if the content is going to be modified?

• „The technical and structural environment and capacity of the Institution to integrate new elements into courseware – is it within the own staff’s capability to add gamification? Do you need to consider an outside source?

• „Budget – what is the bottom line impact? Is the investment cost effective? Do you need a measurable ROI?

8. Gaming elements and key design consideration for eLearning.

All games have a general structure. It is designed in a way that all players have various „layers“ of goals. They have the long-term goal of completing the game, the medium-term goal of completing the levels in the game, and the short-term goal of completing the missions in the levels. These missions are sometimes even broken up further into additional tasks. The requirements of each goal „layer“ in a game get increasingly harder as you move from short-term to long-term goals. However, the final challenge in a game will always be harder than the short-term missions. This allows players in games to learn and practice skills, prior to having to demonstrate mastery of those skills in the most challenging parts of the game.
The same way can be done when designing eLearning material to minimize cognitive fatigue. Instructional designers should break up their Course or products into short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals. For example, before completing a course learners must complete several modules. To complete a module, several topics must be completed. In order to complete a topic, several objectives must be finished. And at the end, each objective requires several goals to be completed.
By structuring your eLearning this way, it allows users to learn new skills incrementally, and then practice those skills before demonstrating mastery of those skills in assessment exercises. This way they are constantly engaged and will not lose the flow of learning.Understanding the structure of the goals you are setting in a system is the key to the design of the system, Rick Raymer (2011). There are two basic structures to goal progression; linear and nonlinear.

8.1 Linear Goal Progression (Figure 2)

Linear (Adapted from an illustration by Sebastian Deterding)

ELearning material is setup for your users to navigate through it linearly, the goal structure can be visualized as in (see Figure 1). The Linear goal progression is rather simple and used to at least some extent in almost all games. Goals are organized in a fashion that they must be completed in a specific order and they have to be completed prior to moving on to the next.

`8.2 Nonlinear Goal Progression

Non linear

(Figure 3)
In (Figure 2), any of the solid lines could be eliminated, as long as there is some other line connecting to a point. Giving your learner choices by designing nonlinear eLearning can help engage the user. This type of flexibility adds to the complexity of the development and design.

9. System design

There are three areas that seem to be the base for player motivation, the cognitive area, the emotional and the social area, but their limits are unclear and game mechanics usually cover more than one at the same time. Many items that are awarded to players on success are for example, just keys to new cycles of expertise that increase game complexity and difficulty, impacting both emotional and cognitive areas. The social area is always mixed with cognitive area, when a task must be solved through a players‘ cooperation or competition; or with emotional area, when rewards systems have an impact on players ’social status. It is very important to apply some of these ideas when designing educative initiatives and their contents. , The main objective behind gamification is to make education more motivating. According to Lee and Hammer (2011), games are motivating because of their impact on the cognitive, emotional and social areas of players; and so, gamification in education should also focus on those three areas. The fact that technology is necessary to implement most of the exposed mechanisms makes e-learning platforms an ideal environment for experimentation.

9.1 The cognitive area

In the cognitive area, a game provides a complex system of rules along with series of tasks that guide players through a process to master those rules. These tasks must be designed as cycles of expertise (Gee, 2003). Each cycle has to consist of a series of short-term tasks which players repeatedly try to complete in a try and fail process until the necessary skill level is acquired. While the player is involved in this learning process, the game designer has to make sure that players always know what to do next, and that they have the necessary knowledge to do it. To support this information transference, the elearning designer has to provide links back to essential information previously referenced in the learning or links to supplemental material that is prerequisite knowledge for the current learning. During assessments, it has to be explained why answers are correct or incorrect, also links have to be provided in order to guide the learner to where the appropriate information can be found. To make the learning process customizable, task sequences are usually non-linear, and players have a certain degree of freedom to choose which tasks to accomplish depending on skill and personal preferences. (El Sevier Ltd, 2012)

9.2 The emotional area

Players who complete tasks are expected to have positive emotions when overcoming difficulties. Games try to assure and increase those feelings with reward systems that give immediate recognition to players’ success, awarding them with points, trophies or items on task completion. According to Wang and Sun’s work on game reward systems, there are eight forms of rewards: score systems, experience points, items, resources, achievements, instant feedback messages, plot animations, and game content (Wang & Sun, 2011). On the other hand, players who fail are expected to feel anxiety. While some degree of anxiety is acceptable, it is not desirable that it transforms into frustration. To avoid this feeling, sequences of tasks are carefully designed to fit players’ skills at any level, and include low penalties on failure to promote experimentation and task repetition. If the difficulty of tasks is correctly balanced, it can drive the players to a flow state which is highly motivating (Csikszentmihalyi, 2008).

9.2.1 Flow Channels


(Figure 4)                                                              (Figure 5)

When the challenge of an experience rises, the skill of the participant must also grow in direct proportion. But, if a user’s skill exceeds the challenge of the experience, they will become bored. And, if the challenge exceeds the participant’s skill, they will suffer anxiety. Generally in games, players are given goals and objectives that get increasingly more difficult as they approach a boss battle (a test), which occur at the end of levels (similar to modules or sections in eLearning). The challenge of the boss battle is almost always higher than any of the challenges presented prior to it. After a boss battle, the challenge of the goals and objectives that the player is given don’t get higher, rather the player is given the opportunity to master their skills before the challenge increases again prior to the next boss battle. This keeps the player in the flow channel, thus engaging them in the experience.

In eLearning, the structure of challenges needs to be different than in games. With learning, the challenge is ramped up immediately after an assessment with the introduction of new material. The learner is presented with new material, which gets increasingly more complex. They are then given a chance to master those new challenges as their skills increase, and after that they are given an assessment that demonstrates the knowledge of that material.

9.3 The social area

When multiple players interact through the game, these interactions have impact on players’ social area. Videogames can offer a wide range of multiplayer interaction mechanisms which are integrated in the rules of the system. These mechanisms make it possible for players to cooperate helping each other and working towards a common goal. They compete together trying to impair other players or to perform better than them, or just to interact socially by talking, flirting, trading or gifting for example. These kinds of interaction let players build different in-game identities taking meaningful roles and obtaining recognition from other players (Lee & Hoadley, 2007).

9.4 Measuring Progress

An important part of providing feedback to users in games or eLearning is to let them know how much progress they’ve made. This can be represented graphically by using progress bars instead of percentages or fractions. This bar could be a graphic of an object that can be filled according to the progress achieved by the learner. Progress should be measured at multiple levels. For example, if the course has five modules, five star or characters outlines could be shown to represent incomplete modules. As the learner completes the topics in each module, the star representing the current module would begin to fill up to a solid color. That way, progress within the module with each star or character upgrade, and total progress in the course with each filled star or character is shown. Users should be able to access the progress bar somewhere at any time.

9.4.1 Character Upgrades

(Figure 6) (Image courtesy of Mike Henry of Big Menace Industries.)

9.4.2 Virtual Coach

A virtual coach that supports the learner with hints and tips could also be a very effective motivator to engage learners.

9.4.3 Rewarding Effort (not just success)

If supplementary material is provided, give your learner a special reward if they take the time to go through it.

9.4.4 Reward Schedules


(figure 7)
It is very important when and where to reward the learners, therefore the designer should be giving them out consistently, and throughout the course. A reward schedule is the timeframe and delivery mechanism through which rewards (pop-ups, points, prizes, level-ups, etc.) are delivered.

10. Conclusion

An essential component of facilitating learning is to understand learners, their learning styles, attitudes and approaches. High School students differ from University students (Oblinger, 2003). Research shows that the new generation of students are fundamently different from their former generations, mostly because of their different media consumption patterns(Bourgonjon, Valcke, Soetaert & Schellens, 2009). The structure and design of online courses can have an impact on the student learning outcomes and requires a thoughtful understanding of motivation and design practices. Game thinking includes more than just a badge system and leaderboards; it requires a thoughtful understanding of motivation and design practices( Werbach, 2013). Gamification, when done correctly can have a measurable effect on learning, overall skill acquisition, and knowledge transfer, because it incents timely course completion with satisfactory scores and therefore, results. It can have a great emotional and social impact on students, as reward systems and competitive social mechanisms seem to be motivating for them. Reward systems suppose an innovative, fun and encouraging way to represent progress within an online educative experience. Leaderboards also serve as a source of motivation because students see their work publicly and instantly recognized, and because they can compare their progress with other classmates. Immediate feedback will increase students’ motivation yielding better results. This is a critical aspect of videogames that makes them compelling and engaging so gamified initiatives must address it (Kapp, 2012).The key to gamification success is to engage people on an emotional level and motivating them to achieve their goals. The goal in game thinking is to create positive learning outcomes while students are committed and stimulated with learning materials online. By using game mechanics, educational practice can transition from a lecture to an interactive and engaging activity ( Pappas,2013)


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