Gamification in Education: How to Use It (With Examples)

Gamification has been a buzzword in online learning circles for a few years now, but its popularity isn’t limited to online teaching.

In many ways, gamification in education reaches its most potent form when used well in an online classroom, but many of its first applications concentrated on building investment and engagement in face-to-face environments.

eLearning has advanced greatly and many organizations and educational institutions using this model are now focusing on gamification strategies to make their programs more engaging and effective. Learning Management Systems (LMS) are currently offering many options to boost gamification, but all strategies are different, and so are the ways to apply these tools to your courses.

To find the best and most unique ways to apply gamification to your online courses, it helps to understand how different ways of gamifying the learning experience serve different purposes.

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What Is Gamification?

“Adding enhancements to the existing organizational systems to add elements of game playing designed to increase participant engagement” is probably the shortest, clear definition of gamification. It’s easy to see how that can translate to motivating learners in traditional education and corporate training alike, given the popularity of games and sports cross-culturally.

Many gamification examples draw from video games, but the concept's foundational theories often referenced examples like “quiz bowl” classroom games and points-based progress tracking teachers have used for decades before the term was widely used.

When you’re deciding how to best build engagement online with these tools, it helps to look for ways to duplicate the systems from digital games because they share native inputs and presentation limitations.

Prominent Theories Behind Gamification in Education

While the term and its applications outside education originated in the early 21st century with the adoption of customer reward programs by businesses and other game-based motivational marketing tools, it did not gain a foothold in educational literature until 2011.

That makes this a new discipline, even if gamification elements were used without a formal theoretical underpinning long before it was discussed in professional research. By bringing together traditional game elements used in face-to-face classrooms with game theory and various motivational theories from the psychology of learning, a new interdisciplinary theory of gamification emerged over the last decade.

Today's gamification classroom draws from the following well-established areas of research:

While the literature is lively with discussions of the most accurate model explaining the success of gamification in the classroom, researchers widely agree on the fundamental principles of its application.

For gamification in education to be successful, it has to combine the best uses of the technology at hand and the design elements of the learning environment. That means the best applications of this theory will always be different in face-to-face classrooms and online classes, but it also means that different types of material may be enriched by very different game elements within one course.

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3 Great Applications of Gamification in Online Learning Including Examples

Each of the following gamification examples uses a different game element as the turning point for increasing engagement and motivation with online learners.

These examples use scenarios from corporate training as well as traditional educational institutions and can be translated to parallel learning situations if you are looking for ideas to kick off the gamification of your LMS.

The key to learning more flexible approaches to the use of game elements is learning to spot when you can repurpose a tool from one kind of learning—like the university—to another—like primary education or corporate training.

1. Building a Digital Space for Training Soft Skills

The creation of a digital environment with avatars the user can customize to represent themselves is a very common game element to incorporate in learning situations where communication and other social skills are emphasized.

It creates a proxy situation to replace the lack of person-to-person presentational skills that would be emphasized by dress and body language in a face-to-face classroom. When combined with the use of leaderboards to track the progress of all learners, it can also make use of competitive game elements and scoring to keep users engaged in the activities.

2. Customized Real-Time Feedback

The growth of the gamification classroom has gone hand in hand with the development of machine learning tools and artificial intelligence applications in the online classroom. The two are related and progress in each area pushes the other because customized user feedback is one of the main features of digital games.

The entire process of playing a video game is in response to real-time feedback based on one's behavior, so the use of analytics and tips for improvement is a natural fit for the learning environment.

It suits practically any kind of education and can be implemented to track progress across all the course modules in the LMS as well.

3. Unlocking Content Through Participation & Completion

One strategy that’s very popular in self-directed online learning in both K-12 and university course design is the use of content unlocking to progress through the course.

Simple LMS systems from about a decade ago allowed for the progression from one topic to another, with the completed work hidden and new work appearing as needed.

Today's AI-driven LMS options provide a more complex approach that allows you to serve content based on the demonstrated knowledge of the user across all subtopics within a learning module. This allows learners to progress in a self-directed way, accelerating through the material that’s easiest for their learning styles and providing reinforcement and review for lessons and topics where the student's performance needs to improve.

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Building Your Institutional LMS for Gamification

No matter the intended user base, a custom LMS with user dashboard resources and machine learning tools to guide engagement is the best way to make the most of the learner's experience.

By building the tools available to both instructors and learners to suit their unique needs, you provide the most contextually appropriate environment possible for the creation of those elements that fit the learning goals of each course.

There's no one perfect answer to building the best online learning experience possible, but gamification in education has been shown to work best when it’s most informed by the context of the classroom where it's used. Keep that in mind as you engage with the experts building your LMS.

Open LMS provides you with all the gamification options you need to engage your learners like never before. Contact our team of experts to learn more or request a trial to see it in action!

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