Teach and/or support learning

The use and value of appropriate learning technologies

What can I do?

  • Create levels for your learning that get harder as students progress (also see quizzes)
  • Give points, badges, and awards when students master learning
  • Use multiplayer features to encourage students to work together to solve problems (also see collaborative learning)

What is this about?

In the context of higher education, gamification refers to the use of game design elements and techniques in non-game contexts, such as in education or training, to enhance motivation, engagement, and learning. Gamification can take many forms, including the use of points, badges, leaderboards, challenges, and other game-like elements to make learning more interactive and fun. Gamification is different from game-based learning, which refers to the use of actual games or simulations as a teaching tool. Gamification is often used to motivate students to complete coursework or participate in online learning activities, but it is not intended to replace traditional teaching methods or content. Instead, it is meant to supplement and enhance the learning experience by adding an element of competition or reward.

What's the evidence say?

Gamification is about using game design elements in educational contexts to support instruction.

  • Examples of game design elements
  • Quests, missions, or modules with a particular narrative
  • Badges, awards, or points following achievement or mastery
  • Leadership boards
  • Levels that get progressively more challenging
  • Timed activities that require quick decision making
  • Multiplayer designs that require people to work in teams
  • The ability to freely navigate around parts of the game

Building game features into learning leads to small to moderate improvements in conceptual knowledge, motivation, and skills.

Student knowledge - particularly conceptual knowledge - seems to benefit most from gamification, whereas student motivation and skills improve, but not to the same extent. A review of the qualitative literature on this topic concluded that gamifying learning is desirable because it 1) fosters enthusiasm, 2) provides responsive feedback, 3) provides recognition, and 4) promotes goal setting, but that it is undesirable because it 1) doesn't further add to learning and 2) can foster jealousy or anxiety.

Kahoot! is a popular website to develop interactive games

...that uses:

  • Badges, awards, or points following achievement or mastery
  • Leadership boards
  • Timed activities that require quick decision making
  • Multiplayer designs that require people to work in teams

It doesn't seem to matter what game features you include, but there are a handful of other points to consider.

  • There are mixed findings regarding the stability of the effects of gamification across fields of study with one meta-analysis showing no difference (Bai et al., 2020) and another showing that gamification is less valuable to the Art and Humanities (Huang et al., 2020).
  • There is reasonable evidence across meta-analyses to suggest that the longer the period of time gamification is used, the larger the effects on learning.

Gamification has its own theory - theory of gamified learning - but other theories also help explain the effect.

The theory of gamified learning, in short, proposes that including game design features in learning enhances - but doesn't replace - instructional content. Instead, gamification of learning supports and enhances students' attitudes and behaviours that facilitate learning. Other theories have also been used to explain the effects of gamification on learning including:

  1. Goal-setting theory - The goals inherent in games give individuals purpose and meaning to their actions.
  2. Self-efficacy theory - Experiencing mastery, seeing others achieve, and receiving encouragement builds confidence and promotes effort and persistence.
  3. Self-determination theory - Games, in their design, typically afford individuals opportunities to satisfy their needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

What's the underlying theory?

There are several underlying theories that explain the effects of gamification on learning, including Self-Determination Theory, Flow Theory, and the Self-Perception Theory. According to Self-Determination Theory, gamification can enhance motivation and engagement by promoting a sense of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Flow Theory suggests that gamification can create a state of optimal experience, or "flow," in which people become fully immersed in an activity and lose track of time. The Self-Perception Theory suggests that gamification can influence learning by providing opportunities for social comparison, which can shape people's perceptions of their own abilities and motivations. Gamification can also foster social learning and collaboration by providing opportunities for students to work together and learn from each other.

Where does the evidence come from?

We have great confidence in the findings.

Three very recent meta-analyses inform this evidence summary. These meta-analyses vary in their design and objectives but have all been conducted to a high standard. Sailer and Hommer's (2020) review is particularly well conducted. If there is any question about the integrity of the findings on gamification, it is with respect to the heterogeneity scores reported by Bai et al. (2020) and Huang et al. (2020). These scores were high, suggesting one or more variables that were not accounted for explained part of the main result. Considering the rigour of these studies - and knowing that Sailer and Hommer's paper was the strongest and didn't report a high heterogeneity score - it is unlikely that any additional variables would account for a meaningful change in the overall effect size.


Bai, S., Hew, K. F., & Huang, B. (2020). Does gamification improve student learning outcome? Evidence from a meta-analysis and synthesis of qualitative data in educational contexts. Educational Research Review, 30, 100322.

Huang, R., Ritzhaupt, A. D., Sommer, M., Zhu, J., Stephen, A., Valle, N., ... & Li, J. (2020). The impact of gamification in educational settings on student learning outcomes: a meta-analysis. Educational Technology Research and Development, 68(4), 1875-1901.

Sailer, M., & Homner, L. (2020). The gamification of learning: A meta-analysis. Educational Psychology Review, 32, 77-112.

Additional Resources