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We have a fair number of meetings with instructors who want to gamify their courses. Who can blame them – if you could get your students hooked on your subject like they are on whatever they’re playing on their phones during class, you’d be a fool if you didn’t at least explore the topic. However, what most people think of when they think of games – like badges, levels, points, or leaderboards – more often than not get in the way of learning, as opposed to encouraging it.

So, if what we normally think of as the fundamentals of the gamified class often times don’t help, what game elements actually do encourage learning? Let’s take a look, through some examples!

Element 1: allow participants to explore and experiment

The freedom that students explore and experiments games can increase their curiosity for the game and learn in a self-directed and unstructured capacity.

Game: Panopticon. This is prison simulator game using virtual reality technology. Players become the warden of a prison. In the game, player’s job is to make sure that prisoners do not escape during your shift. If players notice some rebelling dwellers, he/she can use whistle to prevent them from escaping.

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Teaching Practice in the Classroom: Some real situations may not be directly observed. In a micro teaching session, for example, students can take turns to play a role as teachers to mentor struggling students. The simulation provides an opportunity to experiment an authentic situation.

Element 2: provide ongoing feedback and freedom to fail

Ongoing feedback creates a responsive learning environment via game elements. Learners have freedom to fail, which prompt them to practice to succeed. This element generally breaks course contents into stages and have the levels up to gradually achieve the goals.

Game: EconU. This is an online game for players to build a university while maintaining knowledge of various microeconomic concepts such as total revenue, cost, and scale, etc. Each factor in the game is dependent upon the others. When players spend some costs in some new initiatives, they may receive some information from their bank to report the balance in their account or from administrators to indicate the current status in the university. Such information can serve as continuous feedback to prompt players to consider and improve in order to avoid bankruptcy.

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Teaching Practice in the Classroom: Different stages or milestones can assist students to monitor their learning status. Ongoing feedback in each stage helps students improve their performance, and students are allowed to fail in each stage. So students can ultimately achieve learning goals.

Element 3: bring social interaction among learners in games

Students can feel more closed to each other and have a social presence in this environment. In particular, students may collaborate with others to solve a problem.

Game: Flight Simulator. Players become the pilots and learn to fly a plane in a simulation. In addition to being a pilot, some players can serve as staffs in the airport tower. Players can have some social interaction by communicating to each other to ensure the safe flight.

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Teaching Practice in the Classroom: A case (e.g., school bully) containing multiple problems can be properly used. Each student plays different roles such as principal, teacher, parents, and other administrators to discuss the problems and figure out solutions. This becomes a good way to lead to some social interaction and help students learn how to effectively communicate with other people in different roles.

Element 4: make your content connect to the story of game

If the learning contents are part of the game, the entire game can become a powerful learning tool, rather than simply a tool for fun or entertainment.

Game: Township. Players can build their dream towns in this online game. Also, players can run some business in the town. This is another simulation game better connect the theme of game (i.e., build a town) with learning contents (e.g., business, economics, marketing, financing).

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Teaching Practice in the Classroom: Before you integrate games or game elements into your course, it is definitely important to think about the goal you expect your students to achieve. Some games may contain the “fun” element, but may not closely connect with learning contents. For example, Math blaster is the math computational game. Players serve as the astronauts to shoot the asteroids with numbers. However, the activity in the game, being an astronaut to shoot asteroids, does not mean the mastery of multiple math computation.

Math Blaster - Episode 1 (U)

These examples are in no way exhaustive, but showcase some of the ways that you can meaningfully gamify your class. If you’d like to talk more about how you have already gamified your course, or how to add game elements to your course, drop me a line (, and I’d be happy to talk further with you!