Posted in 5.1 Theoretical Foundations, 5.2 Method, 5.3 Assessing/Evaluating, 5.4 Ethics, AECT Standard 5 (Research)



How can gamification be used to increase motivation in a classroom? Gamification can look very different depending on the application. Game mechanics can be applied to small projects as well as an entire course. The use of XP, leveling up, leaderboards, badges, etc., can easily add elements of gaming to projects but the quality of the instruction and course design is the key to a successful implementation. The biggest contributing factor to the success of gamification is motivation. Learners who participate in a gamified task are typically intrinsically motivated to not only complete the task but to be successful at it. Educators need to be cognizant of the pitfalls of gamification when implementing such strategies. Gamification has roots deep in the Constructivism learning theory by generating motivation in order to complete tasks that are generally self-guided. The skills needed for a student to coordinate completion of the game mechanics align with the Constructivist ideas of a successful transfer of learning episode.


It’s widely agreed that the idea of gamification is growing in popularity. Many researchers have studied the effects of gamification in different scenarios. The topic of this paper is focused on not only what gamification means to education but how it affects learning through motivation in a Constructivist classroom. It is widely understood that motivation plays a positive role in learning. Gamification provides strategies that increase personal motivation to expand on skillsets for use in future quests. At it’s core, Gamification provides a way to incorporate Constructivist theories to technology rich learning environments by increasing motivation.

What is Gamification?

Gamification has been defined as “using game design elements in non-game contexts to motivate and increase user activity and retention” (Deterding et al, 2011). The elements that make up gamification can look different depending on the application. For example, gamification can happen in small assignments, projects, or a whole course.  In addition to where the elements can appear, what types of elements can vary as well. In this section I will explore the various way gamification can look inside a classroom.

Game Mechanics: The basic parts of gamification have been called different things by different authors. Yang, Quadir, and Chen call these parts the “Badge Mechanism” (2015) and Brull and Finlayson call them “Gamification Mechanics” (2016).  In this paper, I will refer to these basic parts as the game mechanics. These parts include scoring in XP, using badges, leaderboards, levels, and any other game like parts. These mechanics are used to simulate a game environment and can be used on most content areas with a certain amount of ease. In order for gamification to work, the literature suggest that at least some of these game mechanics need to be in place to be effective. Using game mechanics and other types of gaming strategies allows learners to solve problems in an engaging and fun way (Bruder, 2015). The game mechanics provide learners with one more tool that they can use to form their own understanding and learning through motivation. This Constructivist perspective illustrates how learners build upon their experiences to achieve successes.  

Course or Content: Educators who may be overwhelmed or even skeptical about applying game mechanics to their own curriculum can begin the process slowly using mini-games. Individual projects or units can be easily gamified by renaming points/percentages to XP, introducing competition with a leaderboard, and creating some reward system with badges or prizes. On a small scale like this, motivation from the mechanics themselves can be difficult to attain, rewards and prizes help.

A gamified course uses game mechanics on a larger scale to create a community of learning. Holding motivation for extended periods with game mechanics alone is very difficult. To successfully gamify a course, there must be quests or some kind choice, otherwise learners quickly bore of the game. Providing a variety of projects that achieve the same objective will allow learners to follow their own interest and feel empowered to succeed (Proulx et al., 2016).

Gamified Learning Management Systems: As gamification grows in popularity more and more classroom management systems are offering a gamified option. These systems provide educators guidance in gamifying their course and can also offer a virtual environment for students to interact. It is important to note that studies have shown that the quality of the digital environment has serious impact on motivation and efficacy for learning. Not all environments are suitable for all situations, educators need to carefully select the right tool to match their needs (Kamasheva et al., 2015).

Constructivism in Gamification

The constructivist learning theory is all about students creating meaning from their learning experiences. The theory places the learner at the center of the learning environment and active participation is the main component to success. The main idea is that experiences help the learner formulate the meaning within the current context. It is through active participation that constructivists believe meaning is created. Gamification is a natural way to incorporate participation into curriculum and build upon experiences by increasing student motivation.

How Gamification affects motivation.

Motivation is defined as being moved to do something (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Therefore, a person who does not try to move forward is described as unmotivated. A person performing a task to attain an outcome is described as being extrinsically motivated, whereas a person performing a task for the pure enjoyment or interest is intrinsically motivated (Chen, Burton, Vorvoreanu, & Whittinghill, 2015). For example, someone who creates art because it makes them feel good and they enjoy it is intrinsically motivated; someone who creates art because they want to make money or status is extrinsically motivated.

Extrinsic Motivation: Traditional teaching styles use a teach-stop-test cycle with the goal of helping the learner to retain the content because they have to pass the test (Shute & Ventura, 2013). The motivation is for the student to do well on the test. As a result, often the content is forgotten soon after testing. This is extrinsic motivation because the learner is only motivated by outside or external factors. In the scope of gamified learning theory, extrinsic motivation often leads to ineffective results. In order for students to really care about and invest themselves into a project, they must be motivated from within themselves.

Extrinsic Motivation can be an applicable form of motivation to be successful but I think one would agree it is not ideal. In learners where an interest in games is weak, motivation to complete the task is in the forefront. The structure and objectives of the task need to also be engaging in order to hold the interest of the learner.

Intrinsic Motivation: When a student is personally vested in their coursework and find it fun, they become intrinsically motivated. Learners in game environments experience emotions such as frustration, wonder, mystery, and amusement, which provides a personal connection to the game or others playing the game. They report that how a game makes them feel inside is one of the major reasons why they play (Lazzaro, 2004).

In a review of  70 empirical research studies on the use of  games in the classroom from Connolly, Boyle, MacArthur, Hainey, & Boyle (2012), the most observed positive outcomes were affectivity, motivation, and learning. The potential of games to foster intrinsic motivation is shown over and over throughout the research. Based on another series of surveys, observations and interviews with gamers, a motivation theory from Malone (1981) was put forward, which says that challenge, fantasy, control, curiosity, cooperation, recognition, and competition are the most significant motivational elements that make gaming fun and engaging.

Pitfalls of Gamification to Consider

Not everyone likes games: An important consideration to remember is that not everyone enjoys playing games. While gamified content may stimulate intrinsic motivation for many, some may still only be motivated by the external factor of passing (Yang, 2017). For these students there will be more effort from the teacher to make sure course objectives are met.

Role of the teacher: It is important for teachers to continue to play an active role in instruction, especially since all students may not respond well to gamification and/or a digital environment. Yang says “simply using digital games in the classroom does not guarantee satisfactory learning achievement, especially in the case of the absence of a teacher. Integrating appropriate learning strategies into a game can better enhance the learning performance.” (Yang, 2017, p.235) Gamification gives students a level of autonomy and in some scenarios, can be delivered as a self-paced course. Research suggests that motivation up-ticks are fewer in a self-guided program than with a facilitator. The reason for this can be tied to the decrease in motivation when a learner either loses interest or is confused with the content. The teacher delivering the program needs to be a reliable resource to students without interfering with the Constructivist ideology of student-centered learning.

Improper objective mapping: Gaming for the sake of gaming isn’t going to work. The objectives of the project need to be kept in focus during the development of the gamified curriculum. As stated already, gamification is not a one size fits all solution to learner motivation. Clear objectives and relevant content is key in sourcing the right gaming solution (Mathrani, 2016).


Constructivist learning theorists (e.g., Papert, 1993; Piaget, 1964, 1970) realize that game-like activities can foster learning. This is because students are willing to spend more time and effort on learning while participating in those activities.  The increased motivation factors gained from gamification provide a Constructivist classroom strategies to increase student success.  The use of XP, leveling up, leaderboards, badges, etc., add elements of gaming to projects but the quality of the instruction and course design to foster participation is the key to a successful implementation. The biggest contributing factor to the success of gamification is motivation. The uptick gained from increased motivation from the gamification of content is inherently transferred to future lessons and built upon to form a big idea. This allows students to build their knowledge and feel in control of their learning.  


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