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In my blog post on using gamification in your courses, I wrote about why educators are using gamification in teaching and learning. If you are considering using gamification in your courses, beware of pitfalls.

In a recent eLearning Industry blog post, Srividya Kumar wrote,

When gamification is not thought through and designed well, it can have the exact opposite effect of what was intended.

Srividya indicates that gamification can be like walking a tightrope in order to get it right. She goes on to provide some pitfalls to watch out for. The pitfalls she suggests you avoid are:

1. Superficial Engagement

Having learners fall over themselves to earn goodies, or compete to achieve top position on a leaderboard is great, but if these are the only reasons that spur learners to perform the desired behaviors, then it’s not going to last very long. Extrinsic motivators can only go so far to engage and motivate. Make sure to have more intrinsic motivators than extrinsic motivators.

2. Unintended Consequences

Think long and hard about the motivators, rewards, and consequences. While encouraging and rewarding the right behaviors does definitely motivate people, sometimes unintended, and even undesirable behaviors can be the side effects of a gamification initiative, as evidenced by the cobra effect.

3. Rewarding the Wrong Behaviors

Avoid Kerr’s folly, rewarding A while hoping for B. Your reward structure shouldn’t undermine your goal. You should be clear about the goal and the outcomes you are aiming for. Measure and reward what is important, not what is easy.

4. Rewards That Learners Don’t Find Valuable

You may have received a gift that you really didn’t like or could not find much use for and struggled to tell the person that you did not like or could not use the gift. That’s exactly what would happen if you throw a bunch of worthless badges at learners, without thinking about whether they would find these badges valuable. Avoid this situation by thinking about whether your learners will find your rewards useful/exciting.

I’m sure you can think of other pitfalls to avoid. Please use the comments below to let us know your thoughts on this topic.

If you are interested reading more about these pitfalls, refer to the “4 Gamification Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them” blog post.

Photo Credit: Pitfall Str | CC BY 2.0

Gamification is making a boring process interesting by using fun elements from games. Educators have been using gamification even before there was an official term for it.

board game

Gamification gets people excited like no other strategy does, probably because it holds the promise of fun and engagement, and extraordinary results. Research has shown that using gamification in education can increase learner motivation. Incentives, badges, levels, and a spot on a leaderboard are all motivators to learn. They let learners achieve in the short-term by providing visible goals.

A leaderboard that measures progress can motivate learners at all levels. A leaderboard that measures skill can fail the learners who are at the bottom.

Making Knowledge Public Using Educational Technology is the theme for our 2017-18 FaCTS initiative. We decided to add gamification to our week-long FaCTS summer seminar. Unlike past FaCTS initiatives, there were a lot of assignments that had to be completed before the first day of the summer seminar. Additionally, it was important that homework assignments that were due each night of the summer seminar had to be completed to keep us on track.

We setup a friendly EdTech Mage competition between the FaCTS cohort where they could earn XP for completing assignments. Our hope was that the participants would keep up with their assignments, have fun while doing so, and that the competition would give the cohort some ideas about how they might use gamification in their courses.

Because the XP earned by the participants would change often, we wanted an easy way to keep up with the points and have the cohort see the leaderboard rankings. Also, we were not sure how the participants would feel about having their names on the leaderboard, so we asked participants to provide an alias to use instead.

To set up our EdTech Mage leaderboard, I created a self-ranking leaderboard using a pivot table in a Google spreadsheet by following Mariana Garcia’s YouTube video instructions.

Here’s what our EdTech Mage self-ranking leaderboard looks like:

The cohort was provided the following documents related to earning XP:

  • EdTech Mage Ranking System (explains the levels and the points needed to achieve each level)
  • EdTech Mage Points (explains the assignments/activities you can earn points for and the number of points the assignment/activity is worth)

You can see the incentives that were given as levels were achieved in the EdTech Mage Ranking System document. If everyone completed their summer seminar preparation assignments they should have earned enough points to reach the Magician level. Therefore, on day one a prize was given to the first person who had reached the Magician level. As the week progressed, a prize was awarded to the first person to reach Sorcerer level. On the last day of the summer seminar a prize was awarded to the top three participants on the leaderboard.

Overall, we received positive feedback from the cohort about adding gamification to the summer seminar. Those of us who organized the summer seminar felt adding gamification helped to motivate the participants to complete their assignments in a timely manner and helped to keep us on track.

Gamification may not suit everyone and may not work for every situation. But for those who can find a use for it, the benefits of gamification can be substantial.

For more information about gamification read my "Why Use Gamification in your Courses?” blog post.

If you are using gamification in your courses or in faculty development, we would love to hear about it. Please leave us a comment and let us know how you are gamifying your courses or your faculty development efforts.

Photo Credit: Board Game | CCO


by Janice Florent

Sorry game board

Gamification is making a boring process interesting by using fun elements from games. Gamification is not the same as playing a game. Educators have been using gamification even before there was an official term for it.

Yu-kai Chou (2015) defines gamification as:

The craft of deriving fun and engaging elements found typically in games and thoughtfully applying them to real-world or productive activities.

Why Use Gamification?

Clearly gamification is a motivation tool. So why would you take the time to set-up a gamification component to your courses? In an LearnDash blog post Justin Ferriman lists some benefits of gamification to consider. Those benefits are:

  • Provides Instant Feedback – learners instantly receive feedback on their understanding of the course content which in turn highlights what they need to spend more time reviewing.
  • Prompts Change in Behavior – Certain behaviors are reinforced by granting learners the ability to earn points and badges. This is even more true if these points and badges can be “cashed in” for something tangible or real.
  • Better Learning Experience – Gamification offers the opportunity for learners to engage with the content in various ways.
  • Safe To Fail – Gamification isn’t always about rewards but can also incorporate the “loss” of a reward. This makes it safe for people to fail and to learn from those mistakes.

What is considered as fun in games?

Winning or beating an opponent is an obvious answer. However, pleasure is also derived from activities such as:

  • problem-solving
  • exploring
  • creating
  • imagining
  • collecting
  • role-playing
  • collaborating
  • simply chilling out

What gaming elements can be used in the learning process?

Gamification strategies include elements such as gamifying grading, incentivizing students with rewards and adding competitive elements such as leaderboards. From the non-exhaustive list of gaming components and mechanics, here are a few from a Bright Classroom Ideas blog post by Savas Savides, which can be particularly useful to educators:

  • Narrative - Nothing can beat a well-told captivating story, whether you are a child or an adult. Text, audio, video, cartoon, they all have the same denominator: a storyline.
  • Progression - Learners need to know they are acquiring skills and getting better. Student portfolios and ‘can-do’ statements help them reflect on their own learning.
  • Challenges - Tasks should be easy enough to tackle, but hard enough to challenge and motivate. And, following the previous point on progression, they should have a gradually rising level of difficulty.
  • Competition - Motivates students to perform better. Through competition, students not only do what is required to accomplish the required goals, but also do the best they can do. Competition allows the students to come forward with better ideas and clearly highlight their skills in front of their teacher and classmates. Competition is closely linked to rewards.
  • Cooperation - Apart from competing against each other, students also like working together. Never miss an opportunity to form pairs or groups to work on a project. It is more fun than working alone.
  • Rewards - With tangible rewards there is always the danger that they may substitute for the intrinsic motivation. It is better to use intangible rewards (e.g. points). Remember that the game is ultimately its own reward.
  • Win States - When the outcome is a winner.
  • Achievements - Create tangible things that serve as proof of student achievement. They can be certificates, posters, photos, videos etc.
  • Badges - Another tangible proof of individual achievement. They can be stickers, stamps, even your own drawings on the board.
  • Leaderboards - A classification of all learners-participants according to their performance. A really powerful motivational tool.
  • Points - Instant intangible rewards that help create leaderboards.
  • Teams - Either working with each other in a team or cooperating to beat another team, students can overcome shyness and benefit immensely.

A well-designed gamified course can grab and keep students’ attention, improve students’ knowledge retention, and improve students’ overall success in the course. Gamification may not suit everyone. But for those who use it, the benefits of gamification can be substantial.