Principles for gamification in your classroom

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Principles for gamification in your classroom

Game board with play cards


Generally, as discussed in a previous post gamification is a misunderstood concept. In most cases people assume it means turning something into a game while in fact it means studying the reason people are drawn to games and once you have isolated those mechanics, apply it in your own context.

When you look at the various definitions of gamification you will eventually see that regardless of the vernacular in the end it boils down to this

Applying game design techniques to non-game situations

What then are these techniques and how do we, as educators, apply it in our lessons?

Through my research on the various identified game mechanics and the application of it specific to an educational context I found many great resources on gamification but I also realised that they tend to focus on brand building or building a customer base and these don’t always translate well to education.

While I am by no means an expert on the matter I can share with you the elements that I found to be most effective and the easiest to introduce into existing pedagogy.

From the overlapping concepts in the various sources I consulted and my own experiments these are the basic elements I always try to incorporate as a first step toward gamifying the classes.

Permission to fail

This is perhaps one of the elements that puts the biggest burden on you to be innovative but it is critical.

Just like games allow you to reload a safe point or start the boss fight again this allows them to improve and teaches them critical thinking

Structuring assessments in such a way that students can fail gives them the courage to try and activates a basic intrinsic motivation. In essence you are just removing the fear of failure and giving them a chance to compete against themselves. I usually employ this as a formative assessment.

Instant feedback

Closely related to the point above is the design of a feedback system that give them instant feedback. Allowing multiple attempts at a challenge is pointless if there is no feedback from the previous attempt that will allow them to analyse and improve. This one also requires some creativity and sometimes a little bending of the rules to implement.


A story ignites immediate interest and engagement. This can be as elaborate as a completely integrated story or a simple case study. Narrative is not only useful for young learners either. A critical part of adult training is to provide context to the material and stories can be an excellent tool to establish this.


Good game design requires the player to be trained on the controls of the game, navigating the environment and the purpose of the game. This is usually done through a tutorial that guides the user through one action and then requires them to repeat that action but add something new to enhance what they are doing. One of my favourite examples of this are the introductory tutorials of both the Portal games from Valve. Not only do they teach you the game mechanics but they thrust you right into the story while doing so, thereby establishing the game universe and immersing the player by bypassing the standard boring slow tutorial stage that so many games require you to do.

This one tends to be the most difficult to implement if your application is at lesson level only and not at subject planning level. Fear not however, even at lesson level this can still be effectively used to ensure revision without boredom.

Scaffolding just means establishing foundation skills or knowledge that subsequent lesson or concepts build on. In most cases this is instinctive to teachers and trainers but I find it helps if the same action must be repeated in subsequent tasks to force the user to think about what they learned.

This is just an introduction to the concepts and I trust it will be a useful starting point for your own experimentation, please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions below.


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