How Should Gamification Reshape Learning?

‘Gamification is the use of logical skills, game mechanics and game thinking outside of video games to engage users and solve real problems’ (Deterding 2011, p 9.). The idea is to make education more engaging and meaningful to students inside and outside of school. As video games become increasingly relevant in the lives of children and adults, regardless of gender, educators would serve to better motivate themselves using the same tactics video games used to reinforce and encourage further play.

In educational context, each stage or period of a game can be perceived as an instructional platform which the student has to succeed in. Each game stage contains numerous tasks for realizing pedagogical aims. The stages end with a final assignment which integrates all the abilities student has developed from the previous stages.If the last task is accomplished successfully, the student qualifies to the next level and secures a well-deserved victory. In this process, the game functions as a type of schooling in which each stage reminds class assignments and victory stands for getting grade. Is this approach effective?

This blog post will focus on the problems associated with original gamification from the aspect of the implicit and explicit nature of the tasks and stress the importance of the user-centered gameful design approach.


Student-centered gamification

Goal-oriented learning is mainly based on the goals set by teachers for controlling the environment in which the students learn (Jones 2013). Students can get bored of similar and predictable goals very easily which will lead to demotivation process. Goal directed learning in original gamification is restricted in terms of providing choices in learning. Alternatively, Nickolson (2012) argues that one of the ways to let students have more meaningful gamification experiences is to give them more freedom with selecting their own goals. For this purpose, he offers the theory of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) which can assist instructors to create course content relevant for various groups of learners. ‘The underlying concept of UDL applies to the creation of meaningful and user-centered gamification’’ (Nickolson2012, p.3). UDL comprises three strategies – ‘what’, ‘how’ and why’ strategies which are the major focus points of Gamification (Nickolson2012, p.3-4). The ‘what’ strategy is introducing various ways of presenting the content of learning. The ‘how’ strategy is designing different activities which help students explore and master the content of learning. The third ‘why’ strategy is offering an intrinsically satisfying motivational design in which students (players) become more engaged and motivated.

However, while using UDL, educators should not separate organization’s objectives from a player’s intrinsic motivation. Instead the focus of user centered gamification should be the integration of the goals set by teachers and the student’s own goals. This allows teachers to activate the intrinsic motivation of students using player-generated content.


The increasing focus on extrinsic rewards

As pre-packaged, neatly-structured gamification platforms have become an attractive way of instruction, undesirable effects of concentrating on extrinsic rewards have become more and more obvious. Due to the domination of ill-considered motivational logistics (mechanics), the students are doing the assignment to achieve the result rather than coming up with creative solutions (Wingman 2013). Original form of gamification psychologically undermines the behavior. The focus of the learning process is basically obtaining rewards; therefore, student interest is shifted from learning information to simply achieving the result as soon as possible. Furthermore, under this scenario, tasks function like drugs since the players become addicted to the desire to level up which triggers undesired behavior (Jiang 2011, p.4). ‘Extrinsic rewards make a student a spectator of progress rather than autonomous agent surfing the learning curve. They belittle the tasks by applying a value to them’ (Wingman 2013).

Nicholson (2012) points out that a key part of meaningful gamification design process is in the engagement and feedback loops. It is not a leadership board; but the content itself is where the learning process happens. A sense of development originates from informational feedback that approves the validity of three essential elements of ‘Drive’: autonomy, mastery and purpose (Wingman 2013). Thus instead of concentrating on external rewards as a key method of motivation, a new game mechanism should be designed and developed which integrates well into the non-game setting and creates relevant connections between aspects of the non-game activity and student’s goals and desires.


In conclusion, meaningful gamification design of education needs to understand and integrate teacher’s objectives with the student’s intrinsic motivation and place player objectives over the goals of game designers. For this purpose, it is necessary for schools to substitute the original style of gamification with more user centered design since it creates a relevant game design philosophy which triggers student engagement by providing meaningful feedback and reinforcement for learners.



Deterding, S., Dixon, D., Khaled, R., &Nacke, L. (2011). From game design elements to gamefulness: Defining ‘gamification’. Proceedings from MindTrek ’11. Tampere, Finland: ACM., p 9-15.

Jiang, K. (2011). The dangers of gamification: why we shouldn’t build a game layer on top of the world.

Jones, S. (2013). Gamification vs. game-based learning – theories, methods, and controversies. Metro State University of Denver (MSUD) Symposium for teaching and learning with technology conference 2013. In Slideshare.

Nicholson, S. (2012). A user-centered theoretical framework for meaningful gamification. Paper presented at Games+Learning+Society 8.0, Madison, WI.

Wingman, P. (2013). Gamification – extrinsic vs. intrinsic rewards. In Slideshare.



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