The Gamification of Education


The Gamification of Education

Today’s kids are more plugged in than ever before. For many, adolescent life is increasingly centered around electronic devices, the internet, and video games. As parents, educators, and tutors, it is not only important to acknowledge this trend but to also take advantage of it as a way to connect with students and enhance the learning process. The gamification of education is an ever-evolving, modern educational movement that exists as a direct response to the changing nature of children’s attention spans and interests.


The modern video game is not a far cry from the quarter-munching arcades of the 1980s and 1990s. Early video games were designed to allow the player a short burst of enjoyment, and then block progress with an increase in difficulty so that the player would have to pay an extra quarter to either continue their progress or try again for a higher score. Comparatively, the goal of modern video games is typically focused on grabbing and holding attention more so than grabbing and demanding more quarters.

One of the ways modern video games have succeed at this aim is by offering an array of incremental and attainable goals. Designers purposefully do what they can to bring on the feeling of being on the precipice of achieving the next goal (be it “leveling up” or unlocking a new feature in the game). The aim is for the player to develop an increasing drive to play for just a little bit longer so that they can feel the dopamine burst that comes with success. At that point, the player (hopefully) wants to relish in the positive feelings associated with the accomplishment by playing even longer. Just before boredom or frustration sets in and the game is turned off, the next goal or level becomes just within reach and the process repeats.

Basic Gamification – Using Games as Teaching Tools

Educational video games have been in existence as long as video games themselves. It is far from a new idea that students can be drawn into fun game experiences while having to practice and learn skills. While not typically the most exciting or engrossing games, there are classics like The Oregon Trail, Word Munchers, Math Blaster, Reader Rabbit, Carmen Sandiego, and even Sim City that can still elicit fond memories of school computer labs from the 1980s and 1990s. These “edutainment” titles were some of the better offerings in the genre and were used to give students conceptual practice in their core academic subjects. Surprisingly, many of these games still hold up (and can even be played online in a web browser thanks to the work of

These types of games were successful because they utilized the same cycle of challenge and incremental, yet achievable rewards that made their entertainment-focused counterparts work. Students played to reach the next goal, had their successes rewarded by access to a new feature, a new level, or a new animation; students would then (as their teachers would hope) strive to repeat the routine. For the educator, these types of games served to replace some of the rote practice usually reserved for worksheets or book-work. Ideally, if the game was entertaining enough, the student would not feel like they were actually doing work.

Gamification of the Classroom Workflow

In modern classrooms, the concept of leveling-up is being utilized in more progressive ways than just giving student access to educational video games. Some teachers are using sites like Classcraft or ClassDojo to bring the gamification concept into the daily operations of their classrooms. Students earn experience points (XP) for various tasks and submissions in an effort to gain enough XP to literally level-up on the site in the same way they would in their favorite video games. This process has been shown to be successful with certain students.

That being said, there is a fear among some in the education field that this reliance on extrinsic motivation removes the push to develop a student’s innate desire to learn for the sake of knowledge. For this reason, education professionals with experience with gamification concepts often acknowledge the complexities of the gamification debate. All told, the concept of classroom gamification is still very much in its early stages. Time will tell if this trend gains a wider-spread use as school districts increase their adoption of technology in the classroom.

What positive or negative role do you feel the concept of gamification could have in the classroom? What were some of your favorite “edutainment” games? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

About Sheldon S

Sheldon Soper is a ten year veteran of the teaching profession and currently serves as a junior high school teacher in southern New Jersey. His primary focus is building reading, writing, and research skills in his students. He holds two degrees from Rutgers University: a B.A. in History as well as a M.Ed. in Elementary Education. He holds teaching certifications in English Language Arts, Social Studies, and Elementary Education. Sheldon has also worked as a tutor for grades ranging from second through high school in a wide variety of subjects including reading, writing, calculus, chemistry, algebra, and test prep. In addition to his teaching career, Sheldon is also a content writer for a variety of education, technology, and parenting websites.

  1. David Harms 01/13/2017, 5:49 pm Reply

    Using gaming to develop studen’t’s interest in history allows them to experience it instead of just memorizing facts.

    • Sheldon Soper 03/08/2017, 10:03 am Reply

      Gamification works when the end result is a blend of student engagement AND accurate understanding of content. With history, it is important that role-playing and simulations are balanced with purposeful comparisons to what actually happened, otherwise the exercise becomes more about strategic thinking than knowledge acquisition.

      (…and FYI, you have some typos in the instruction sheets on your site)

  2. Robert 04/24/2017, 5:41 pm Reply

    You hit it on the head! Gamification is extrinsic motivation. Well crafted content that feeds a student’s curiosity is what makes a long lasting impact on learning – that’s Game Based Learning, intrinsic motivation.

    Unfortunately schools won’t pay for content that doesn’t appeal to everyone. So they ignore the market facts of reality like genre and content preference.

  3. Robert 04/24/2017, 5:45 pm Reply

    Gamification without content is vacuous; it’s nothing. Great content without gamification is a sandbox that still engages kids in wondrous ways.

    Content is the real value. Once you have that, you can add gamification to enhance the experience.

    The uber problem is, creating great content is an art not a science.

    • Sheldon S 04/25/2017, 7:44 am Reply

      Spot on! Engagement doesn’t matter if the content students are engaging with has no deeper purpose. Students need to be tackling real issues in authentic ways. Gamification done well is a highly effective way at making the workflow of that process more relevant to kids.

  4. Heather 07/15/2017, 8:36 pm Reply

    I have found that gamifying the classroom (both in regards to content and classroom management) has developed much more positivity and engagement in my students. I use Classcraft, Kahoot, Quizlet etc. and I am always looking for more tools that I can use in a secondary education setting.

  5. Drazen 10/09/2017, 9:55 am Reply

    One super simple way to gamify any learning lesson is to introduce current online games from various areas (math, physics, logic, brain teasers, reading, writing) into learning lessons. These simple online games are spread all over free gaming portals and they have valuable and amusing content. Current technology allows easy embedding, teachers just have to apply them and control their usage in everyday lessons.