A Guide to Gamification: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

 In Classroom Practice

Gaming Can Change the World

You may be hearing a new word in education and technology a lot these days: Gamification. Gamification applies elements associated with video games (game mechanics and dynamics) in non-game activities. In a nutshell, gamification is a means of increasing learner engagement and promoting good classroom behaviour. In 2011, Deterding defined gamification as using game design elements and characteristics in non-game contexts. Think of the key elements of a game: achievement, goals, rewards, quests, and the ability to level up your character. Generally, each of these drives a player’s promotion or levelling up within a game. Gamification takes that reward and levelling structure and applies it to participants, that is, your learners.

Tweet, “Gamification is a means of increasing learner engagement and promoting good classroom behaviour.”

As a classroom management tool and motivator, gamification has great potential in pushing learner achievement and making school more attractive (Lee & Hammer, 2011). The idea here is that using a gamified tool can introduce what really matters from the world of video games – increasing learner engagement – without using a specific game. The levelling and reward system borrows what makes good games fun to play. Learning can be fun if learners learn as if they were playing a game.

The Good

The gamification framework will help guide the educator.

  • Create challenges tailored to the learner’s level of knowledge, and increase the difficulty of these challenges as the learner acquires new skills.
  • Set up multiple ways to successfully achieve an objective, allowing learners to overcome roadblocks in learning.
  • Consider failures part of the learning process. A learning objective can be met successfully after several failed attempts without penalizing learners.
  • Enable learners to assume different identities and roles, allowing them to explore the interaction with other parts of who they are.
  • Enable peers and parents to recognize a learner’s progress.
  • Maintain a standard of behaviour and expectation in the classroom while rewarding learners who meet the challenges set before them.

Here are some examples of systems that show gamification at its best and examine gamification research.

The Education Arcade

The Education Arcade is a Massachusetts Institute of Technology initiative and has material for educators to produce more effective teaching methods. The site also has news and commentary on contemporary education developments. Content on the site is designed for grade 5-12 educators.


GameSalad is a game design education program that is simple enough to master quickly but complex enough to create highly customizable materials and games. Once educators use it, it’s easy to teach learners to create their own games. They’re on Twitter @gamesalad

Games and Learning Alliance

GALA, the Games and Learning Alliance, blogs on serious developments in gamification and the intersection of games and education. They invite many people to submit papers commenting on gamification’s impact on behaviour. They’re on Twitter @gameandlearning

Educators can turn to several games and tools when looking to implement gamification in their classrooms. These are two of the most effective curriculum and classroom management tools we recommend.



The Bad

As is the case with most trends, some teachers and administrators want to use gamification just for the sake of using it. The name is catchy, it sounds fun, and many educators and researchers in technology have praised its results in other fields. But maybe gamification isn’t right for your classroom, certain learners, or the demographic of learners. Before implementing a gamified system, think about why gamification can work for your classroom. Think of the end pedagogical goals of teaching using gamification.

1) How will you teach using it?

2) What parts of your classroom will be gamified?

3) What could go wrong?

If it’s difficult to come up with solid answers to why you would use it in the classroom, it may be best to go in a different direction.

The Ugly

Knowing what can go wrong in your classroom with gamification is important. As with any changes to your pedagogy, you need to consider how learners could be negatively affected.


Offering too many quests or goals in a small timeframe could overwhelm learners. They might log in, see 25 quests, and not know where to begin. Limit the expectations in your use of quests or assignments.


Instead of motivating learners, reaching the top of an “academic” leaderboard might be considered “uncool.” Worse, this might alienate learners who are already struggling. Consider making this optional for learners or highlight winners of various tasks and quests beyond academics.

Neglecting Player Types

Gamers play games for many reasons. Some play to win, others play for the fun of it, and many of your learners play to make friends or engage with their friends outside of school. This makes for many types of players/learners. Most gamified systems cater heavily to the competitive type. If your game/quests/goals ignore players’ cooperative or explorative types, your learners could disengage. Diversify your quests to consider all types of learners or players.

Not Celebrating Failure

Games celebrate success, but they also celebrate failure. Navigating a game always involves several “redos” or failures as you progress. If you are not celebrating failure in your gamification model in the classroom, you are not celebrating learning. By only celebrating success, you place value on winning rather than growth and persistence. Do you have badges for “Sticking With It,” “Big Improvement,” or “Asking for Help”? You should!

Gamification can be a helpful process for engaging and motivating your learners. However, doing it right requires thoughtfulness and an awareness of how your learners learn best.

mobile mathTablet-based apps can support interdisciplinary learning.