Tips for Gamifying Your Course

Looking to heighten student interest and understanding? Then consider gamification.

What’s gamification? Gamification entails using game design elements, game thinking, and game mechanics in non-game contexts to make learning more engaging.

Gamification boasts many benefits (1). It not only fosters student engagement, but also increases retention. It engages people’s natural desire to explore and make meaningful decisions. It’s also a student-centered method of instruction. In short: Gamification helps people learn – and remember what they’ve learned!

But assignments shouldn’t be gamified just for the sake of gamifying them (2). A well-integrated, gamified assignment can enhance a course. An assignment gamified just for gamification’s sake, however, can detract from a course’s overall goal. No one likes jumping through hoops for the sake of jumping. Games must therefore be authentic to the material and subject matter.

Raph Koster, one of the foremost experts on game design, warns would-be game designers to avoid the practice of “attempting to use the trappings of games (reward structures, points, etc.) to make people engage more with product offerings.” Such trappings, he goes on to explain, are “often layered on top of systems that lack the rich interpretability of a good game.” This is bad because a “reward structure alone does not a game make.”

Examples of bad gamification abound. Have you ever owned a customer loyalty card? These cards usually encourage customers to earn points that can be used to earn various discounts. Though everyone likes to save money, customer loyalty cards are usually an example of bad gamification. They impose game-like features on the act of shopping without eliciting a sense of reward or interest intrinsic to the customer. The customers aren’t playing a game simply because a company tells them they are earning “points.”

5 Tips for Gamifying Your Courses

To wit: Gamified assignments can transform instruction. But those assignments must fit into the overarching goal of the course. How can you tell if your course is properly gamified? You can start by following these five tips:

  1. Make sure you can match the gamified assignments and activities to verbs associated with the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.
  2. Make sure your gamified activities serve a purpose. Games are only useful if they are inherently challenging and meaningful.
  3. Establish clear objectives and make sure game objectives and course content align.
  4. Begin with smaller, more easily gamified assignments to accustom students (and faculty) to gamification.
  5. Make sure there is a sense of progress built into gamified assignments.

These tips should get you started. But let’s not forget the most important tip of all: Have fun!

Helpful Resources

Gamification platforms




Books on Gamification

Kapp, Karl M. The Gamification of Learning and Instruction: Game-based Methods and Strategies for Training and Education. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer, 2012. Print.

Koster, Raph. A Theory of Fun for Game Design. Scottsdale, AZ: Paraglyph Press, 2005. Print.


(1) Gamification in Higher Education, Does Gamification Work?

(2) A User-Centered Theoretical Framework for Meaningful Gamification

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