Since the majority of students play video games at home, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that 70% of teachers saw an increase in student engagement when using educational video games. Have you ever tried playing games in class?  Since nearly 80% of learners said they would be more productive if their learning was like a game, maybe you should give it a try in your class!

If you are a professor thinking about adding gaming to your curriculum, understanding the benefits and drawbacks of gaming in the classroom is important. The information in this article should be able to help you with your decision. Many instructors have led the way in researching this topic and are using games to motivate students in their classrooms.

An Overview of Gamified Learning

The definition of gamification in higher education is a teaching methodology that creates a game-like scenario around the course curriculum and the objectives of the course. The purpose of these game systems is to promote student engagement and motivate students to participate in the course activities. The concept of gamification in higher education has become popular with a wide range of companies that have created game platforms for many different subjects.

If used properly, many professors have found that by using games as a motivator in their classrooms they have improved course assessment results and have students that are attentive and productive. Research and science-based games are even working on real-world problems by motivating players to help.

Critics claim that gamification is a fad that doesn’t help teach students anything meaningful and many professors scoff at using games in their college classrooms since they do not see it as serious learning.  While it’s true that gamification has become a large part of K-12 classrooms, there are many opportunities for gamification in higher education as well. There is enough research on both sides of the argument to support either view so here are some pros and cons to help you determine if a gamified classroom is right for you.

What is Gamification in Higher Education?

Games, in any form, increase motivation through engagement. Nowhere else is this more important than education. Nothing demonstrates a general lack of student motivation quite like the striking high school dropout rates: approximately 1.2 million students fail to graduate each year (All4Ed, 2010). At the college level, a Harvard Graduate School of Education study “Pathways to Prosperity” reports that just 56% of students complete four-year degrees within six years. It’s argued that this is due to current systemic flaws in the way we teach; schools are behind the times. Watch a single lecture on innovation trends in education, and the presenter likely notes the striking similarities of a modern-day classroom and one of the centuries past. It’s been proven that gamifying other services have resulted in retention and incentive. For example, website builder DevHub saw a remarkable increase of users who finished their sites shoot from 10 percent to 80 percent. So, in theory, it should work for schools as well.

How Can I Gamify Education In My Classroom?

Educators have tested this theory and seen positive results. There are a variety of ways to introduce your classroom to gamification in higher education and we’re providing you with just a few ideas. We hope to spark a discussion on gamifying higher education so that educators can discuss the topic more thoroughly and provide examples in which they have used gamification to make learning more engaging.

  1. Gamification in grading: One success story is Lee Sheldon, a professor at Indiana University, who gamified his course by abandoning grades and implementing an “experience points” system. Students’ letter grades are determined by the number of points they have accumulated at the end of the course, in other words, by how much they have accomplished. Because of the extracurricular interests of the current college-age generation (games!), Professor Sheldon attributes success to the fact that “the elements of the class are couched in terms they understand.” Students are progressing towards levels of mastery, as one does in games. Each assignment and each test feels rewarding, rather than disheartening. Using experience points allows educators to align levels with skills and highlight the inherent value of education.
  2. Award students with badges: For each assignment completed, award students with badges. This may seem like a regression back to Kindergarten stickers of gold stars, but it’s working for Khan Academy. As students watch instructional videos and complete problem sets, Khan Academy awards them with points and badges to track progress and encourage perseverance. Western Oklahoma State College is implementing this form of gamification into their technology classes, with badges like “Moodle Noob No More,” or, a personal favorite “Drop It Like It Hot” to indicate mastery of Dropbox. However, as previously noted, it’s important to add value to the badges, like bonus points, skill levels, etc.
  3. Integrate educational video games into your curriculum: The use of games allows students to fail, overcome, and persevere. Students are given a sense of agency—in games, they control the choices they make, and the more agency students have, the better students do. Instantaneous feedback and small rewards (or big ones, like winning) are external motivators that work. Case in point, Mr. Pai, a 3rd-grade teacher on a mission to make learning fun. He disrupted the traditional classroom setting by introducing the Nintendo DS, among other technology, into his daily curriculum. Students practiced math and language through the use of computers and video games. In just eighteen weeks, his class went from a below 3rd-grade level to a mid-fourth-grade level.
  4. Implement a class-wide rewards system: Encourage camaraderie among students by setting up a rewards system where students achieve something as a team. For example, set a goal of 80% of the class passing an exam. As a reward, give the entire class bonus points or even a party. That way, students are working to master the material together instead of competing, and the highest-achieving students will help those around them.
  5. Gamify homework assignments to encourage informal learning: Ultimately, educators hope games translate learning into informal environments. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day for an educator. Games allow the curiosity—and the learning—to continue after the bell rings.

Pros of the Gamified Classroom in Higher Education

1. Increases Student Engagement

Studies have shown that students are more likely to spend time playing a learning-based game if you are using a reward system. Badges and points help translate the work the student is completing into a tangible benefit. By increasing engagement, you’ll also see a rise in learning retention through gamification of learning. Students will be able to relate to the content easier through practice than just reading or watching a lecture.

2. Creates Enthusiasm

Gamified learning can be used to foster feelings of enthusiasm towards the subject matter, especially in subjects that students struggle with, like math. By creating a gamifying learning with rewards, students are becoming excited and competitive while learning through quizzes, polls and other collaborative learning methods with their peers.

3. Provides Instant Feedback

Most gamification apps or systems allow for instantaneous feedback, which students can use to see where they stand among their peers. This information can push a student to try the quiz or activity again to get higher placement and creates motivation for further student engagement.

4. Makes Social Connections

In higher education, we often find that students have trouble creating social connections with other students in their courses. Gamified classrooms, seated and virtual, help students who have trouble with social interaction and give them a reason to work together. This is especially true if you create team competitions that require students to collaborate on challenges.

Cons of the Gamified Classroom in Higher Education

1. Decreases Student Attention Span

Critics of gamified learning believe that the fast pace and immediate feedback create issues for students’ attention spans. Students may begin to expect the same kind of responses from all parts of their education and won’t find it, leading to frustration.

2. Cost

The costs of gamified learning are varied based on the type of system you are using. There may be equipment, software, and training costs for instructors. Sometimes these costs are passed on to the students through registration fees and course codes that must be purchased, creating a higher barrier to entry into the classroom. There are often support or maintenance-related costs for systems that are delivered online or are hosted in your campus environment.

3. Student Assessment

When choosing a game it is not often clear how the results of the gamified learning activity will tie into your course assessment. While most games have a built-in way to track progress, you will need to find a way to translate the student’s game progress into fulfilling objectives. It is not always easy to find a good fit between the games on the market and your course materials so this can be a time-consuming process.

4. Game Logistics

Many times, setting up a game for your course requires a lot of prior planning and logistics. Questions you need to ask are: Will students be able to play the game at home? Is there an additional cost if they use it outside of the classroom? Are there enough computers available for students to play the game in class?  Do I want to use class time for students to play the game? Most of the time you will need to sit down and play the game yourself all the way through, which can take about 40 hours before you fully understand the game and objectives.

Gamification Apps and Tools

Gamifying your higher education classroom through online tools and platforms can help engage your students in course content and helps them connect with their classmates on a deeper level. Here, we share some tools that help you bring enthusiasm, connection and competition to your course.

  1. Kahoot: Kahoot allows instructors to design their own multiple-choice quizzes for both formative assessments and informal quizzes. To participate, students answered timed questions, where they are ranked based on their speed and accuracy. It can be accessed via Kahoot! app or web browser.  
  2. TEDEd: TEDEd houses hundreds of educational videos  \with an accompanying app where instructors can create interactive video lessons based on their course concepts, with quizzes, discussion prompts and other activities.
  3. Gimkit: Gimkit gives instructors the opportunity to create their own gameshows that students can answer on their own devices. Working at their own pace, students work on question sets until they reach mastery to ensure they’ve fully comprehended course concepts.


While the topic of gamified learning has been around for years, it is just now hitting its stride in higher education. The global gamification market is projected to grow from $9.1 billion in 2020 to $30.7 billion by 2025. There are many opportunities for new and exciting games that will help us increase student engagement in our seated and online classrooms.

These pros and cons are important ideas to consider when choosing how games could support your college classroom. If you love the idea of motivating your students through points and badges, gamified learning may be for you, but if you struggle to prioritize your time when it comes to course development, gamification may not be the right choice. Starting small and giving yourself lots of time for planning is the key to success.

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