14 Gamification

Carrie Lewis Miller

Gamification strategies have seeped into the everyday lives of most of us, although we may not realize it.  In marketing and commercial venues, loyalty cards, apps, and rewards programs integrate game strategies into their structures to motivate and encourage competition.  It is only natural then that gamification strategies have begun to be implemented into training and education initiatives (Prakash & Rao, 2015).  Gamification is the application of game techniques and strategies to a process or environment that is typically non-gaming, like shopping, exercising or teaching and learning (Kapp, 2012).  Techniques such as the use of leaderboards (a scoreboard indicating where a participant falls in relation to other participants), leveling up (increase in a pre-defined rank as points are earned), badges, quests, and hidden challenges are all examples of gaming that can be incorporated into a work or training environment (Deterding et al., 2011; Miller et al., 2018).

Do you use an app for exercise, weight loss, nutrition, or grocery shopping?  What about to earn gas discounts or coupons?  Many of these items use gamification techniques to keep you coming back.  For example, the app Zombies, Run! uses game elements to encourage people to exercise by running.  Don’t enjoy your normal jogging routine?  With this app, you can collect survival “supplies,” complete missions, and run away from strategically placed zombies that get you moving faster.

Gamification of education refers to using elements of gaming as part of instruction (Kapp, 2012). Aspects of games that have been found to have educational benefits including being able to model high-stakes situations in low-stakes environments, allowing learners to “level-up” by beginning with a version of a game with more “hints” and slowly removing the help and support mechanisms, providing ongoing, continuous feedback (the “infinitely patient tutor”), and increase students’ focused mental effort on course material by making the work of learning fun (Higdon et al., 2009).  Quest to Learn is a school in New York for middle and high school kids where the curriculum has been adapted by game developers to use the underlying principles of games to teach PK-12 subjects.

There are many ways to gamify a learning experience.  Some instructors gamify the entire learning experience.  Michigan State University professor, Glenn Stutzky, created an entire zombie experience for his SW290: Surviving the Coming Zombie Apocalypse – Disasters, Catastrophes, and Human Behavior course (http://zombie.msu.edu/).  The full course experience is so popular that it is routinely offered for non-credit seeking students so anyone can enroll in the course.

Other instructors choose to gamify the story and the mechanics of the course, using simple game elements like leveling up and rewards.  Others may choose badging or hidden quests.  The important element connecting all of the gamification examples is the story.  Learners need to know why they are participating in this experience.  Like with the MSU zombie course or the IT Jedi Academy, a good story can carry the experience.

Questions for Discussion 

  1. Based on the three readings, what evidence do you have that gamification works? What challenges do you see as barriers to implementing gamification?
  2. Think of an outline of a gamification strategy for a learning context with which you are familiar. What would your basic story or theme be? What would the ranks be? How would you engage the learners with the story?



Deterding, S., Sicart, M., Nacke, L., O’Hara, K., & Dixon, D. (2011). Gamification: Using game-design elements in non-gaming contexts. In CHI 11, Extended abstracts on human factors in computing systems (pp. 2425-2428).

Higdon, J., Miller, S., & Paul, N. (2009, October). Educational gaming for the rest of us: Thinking worlds and WYSIWYG game development. In E-Learn: World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education (pp. 359-362). Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

Kapp, K. M. (2012). The gamification of learning and instruction: game-based methods and strategies for training and education. John Wiley & Sons.

Miller, C. L., Grooms, J.C., & King, H. (2018). To infinity and beyond! Gamifying IT service desk training: A case study. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 31(3), 249-268.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/piq.21263

Prakash, E. C., & Rao, M. (2015). Introduction to gamification in enterprises. In Transforming Learning and IT Management through Gamification (pp. 47-72). Springer.


Recommended Supplementary Material

  • Hamari, J., Koivisto, J., & Sarsa, H. (2014, January). Does gamification work?–a literature review of empirical studies on gamification. In System Sciences (HICSS), 2014 47th Hawaii International Conference on (pp. 3025-3034). IEEE.
  • Hanus, M. D., & Fox, J. (2015). Assessing the effects of gamification in the classroom: A longitudinal study on intrinsic motivation, social comparison, satisfaction, effort, and academic performance. Computers & Education, 80, 152-161
  • Games, Simulations, and Gamification Teaching Strategy
  • LinkedIn Learning Courses: Gamification for Interactive Learning or Sales Gamification by Karl Kapp
  • https://youtube.com/watch?v=MuDLw1zIc94%3Ffeature%3Doembed%26rel%3D0




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Game Based and Adaptive Learning Strategies Copyright © 2021 by Carrie Lewis Miller is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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