What is gamification of elearning?

Posted by Greten on 21 Dec 2019 under Terms, Thoughts

There's the game, and then there's gamification. Gamification is the implementation of game elements such points, competition and winning, into activities that are not usually regarded as games such as working, buying groceries, and learning.

Gamification works by using the same motivation and reward system in games. People are more motivated to do an activity if they are challenged and then rewarded for their success, even if that reward is just emotional gratification. Some examples of gamification are:

  • Working in sales: to encourage selling more, those who sold the most at the end of a predetermined period receive additional benefits on top of their commission, such as travel packages or exclusive use of a dedicated parking slot in the office building.
  • Retail: reward points to customers who bought certain items or spent a certain amount. There are even stores that award points just by trying the product. A system store these points, typically with the help of some membership card.

Then, there's gamification of learning, and elearning in particular, which will be the focus of this entry.

The learning process is gamified when it undergoes modifications so that the motivation and reward that comes with games aid in facilitating learning. With the ease of designing video games, designing a gamified elearning system is not that difficult.

How elearning can be gamified?

You can gamify elearning by incorporating elements commonly associated with games into the elearning process. Some of these elements are as follows:

  • Points: this may or may not be correlated with how the learners answer the exercises.
  • Competition: with a clear set of winners and losers, and perhaps, first, second, or third runner ups.
  • Objective: this defines how the game ends and how winners and losers are determined.
  • Fun: which motivates the learners to proceed and continue with the gamified learning process.

Non-elearning settings such as a traditional classroom can also be gamified. Teachers can design board games or some cooperative activities that can make classroom learning fun. However, a gamified elearning is easier to automate; points and the determination of winners are easier to implement and use repeatedly in the elearning module and the learning management system (LMS).

The following elements may or may not be present in a gamified elearning:

  • Narrative: a gamified elearning can have a story, either as a backdrop or with the plot progressing as your learners run through it. It can be as simple as learning a concept or process while you investigate a crime or having a journey in a fantasy or science fiction world.
  • Scaffolding: game mechanics that allow your learners to transition to more complicated topics or a higher level of difficulty within the same topic.

What gamification of elearning is not?

A gamified elearning is sometimes confused with two related concepts: games and simulation.


A game is an activity that provides a challenge and has specific objectives, rules, and a defined outcome. The purpose of the game is to entertain. For example, in basketball, the objective is to have a higher score than the other team at the end of the game. Your team obtains score by shooting the ball into the basket, and you have to follow specific rules like you cannot hold the ball for more than five seconds without dribbling.

Video games also have specific objectives, rules, and outcomes, such as shoot through the horde of space ships and defeat the mothership. A more complicated game has something like choose a class for your character, travel the fantasy world, level up your character, and defeat the big bad.

These are all games. The aim is to provide entertainment and nothing else. Some people might learn something new or earn money, such as professional players, but these are byproducts of a system designed to entertain.


A simulation is an activity designed to learn or practice skills in a controlled environment. The focus of the simulation is to provide a realistic experience. A simulation may or may not have objectives or a defined outcome, but it certainly has rules enforced by a computer or a facilitator. A flight simulator is an excellent example of a simulator; it is a computer system that allows pilots to practice maneuvering a plane. A roleplaying activity where one pretends to be an upset customer and the other a customer service representative is an example of a simulation that may or may not use a computer; it can be done through online chat or face-to-face.

A simulation that has an objective and an outcome may double as a game. For example, a driving simulation can have a racing mode that allows you to compete with computer-controlled cars or cars controlled by other players through the internet or local network.

Gamified elearning are not assessment tools

Do not confuse the points and ranking in a gamified elearning with the assessments. Despite having points, badges, leaderboards, and other indicators of winners, these indicators should not affect the grades of the learners. Gamified elearning is part of the learning process, not an assessment tool.

A front view of a cartoon bull wearing white and about to kick at brown football ball.Here is an interesting example of gamification. When I was only starting my career in elearning, I checked several lessons in the K-12. Among those that catch my attention are a few flash-based math sports games. Considering that most browsers are now withdrawing support from Flash, I will link to equivalent HTML5 games.

  • Soccer math games: you get score by kicking the ball to the goal. To get a chance to kick the ball, answer the math problems correctly.
  • Money master: earn score and practice both your addition and recognition of money.
  • Alien Angles: estimate angles by having information about the position of aliens you need to rescue and entering the angle by which you need to launch your rocket ship.

The game mechanics are you answer a math problem, and if you got a correct answer, you get a chance to score a goal. Note that you earn score when the ball goes through the goal, and not when you answered the math problem correctly. Hence, it is possible to consistently provide the correct answer but still fail to make it to the goal.

My initial thinking was, these flash games are pointless. The scores are not directly related to the learners' mathematical knowledge and proficiency. I realized now that these games are not assessment tools, but are a useful part of the learning process by motivating learners to practice.


Several years ago, without knowledge of gamification, I wrote an earlier analysis of turning elearning experience into something game-like. You can find it here: Kinds of Educational Computer Games; I focus only on analyzing those that I find useful in learning.

As my knowledge of elearning expands, I realized that many of these games could be useful, including those that I initially thought to be pointless exercises. You can use them to motivate the learners to practice. So what if they fail or they have a low score. If they are motivated to practice their math, then these flash games are working; they are useful as part of the learning process and not to assess what the learners learned so far.


Last updated on 30 Dec 2019.

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Instructional design and educational technology for effective learning