Game-design Thinking in Education and Beyond

Four middle school students working in a library at a computer station

Gamification—game-design thinking that uses elements of mechanics and design to make learning engaging and fun—can be a transformational online tool in both school and the business world. Designers are using gamification to enhance e-learning in marketing, social media, and philanthropy. Rick Raymer—who has been designing and producing e-learning software, games and simulations for nearly a decade—shares that designers are incentivizing users through virtual scenarios that offer points, levels, achievement badges, and feedback loops, with great success. In other words, educational gaming has a lot more than fun behind it…there’s real science involved, and great benefits to people who are fortunate enough to have access to a gamified learning environment.

Gamification at the K-12 Level

Many teachers today see game-design techniques as a way to improve their students’ engagement and interaction with learning material. Ananth Pai, a third grade teacher at Parkview/Centerpoint Elementary School in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, turned his classroom into an online gaming world that allows students to compete against each other—and even students from other countries—in subjects such as math, science, language, economics, and business. Teachers everywhere are undertaking similar experiments in their classes.

Not only do the games offer multiple goals, achievements, and rewards, but they allow teachers like Pai to give positive feedback to their students, who can then do the same for their peers. And the results are there to support the student hype around gamified learning. According to Pai, testing showed that in just four months, a gamified curriculum brought the class average up from a below-third-grade-level to a mid-fourth-grade-level in math and reading.

Game Design in Higher Education

Gamification is producing similar results in higher education. At the online New England College of Business and Finance, undergraduate and graduate students use game modules to prepare themselves for real-life employment scenarios. MBA students take part in an online simulation to steer their own businesses and report to a virtual board of directors, while undergraduates compete with classmates to build the best website for a preselected nonprofit group. “Taking game-based mechanics and aesthetics and applying [them] to learning elements allows us one sort of tool that we can use to make the learning experience an exciting, memorable one,” says Jason Kramer, an e-learning instructional technologist at the school. He also notes that “gamifying courses”—or infusing them with competition and rewards—helps students retain knowledge. One such reward system (an offshoot of gamification) is badging. Our Acclaim Badges team is helping education institutions as well as professional organizations and certifying bodies around the country to take advantage of game-design thinking. (Our Acclaim colleague Pete Janzow explains the how and why of digital badges in this blog post.)

Meris Stansbury, managing editor of eCampus Learning, adds that game design works well in higher education because it emphasizes three important attributes of learning: 1) progression, where students can visualize their own success; 2) investment, where they are fully engaged and can take pride in their work; and 3) cascading information, where they “unlock” more complex information as the virtual game progresses through ascending levels.

End-of-Course Comprehension Checks

The learning process in game-design education is experiential—students forge ahead as they would in a video game, working to grasp concepts so they can move to higher levels. They might earn badges at the K-12 level or course credit points in college. TeachThought, an online resource for teachers, recommends administering frequent assessments instead of waiting until the end of a course to give students one long exam. Teachers can perform these in less than 90 seconds by having students either create a yes-no chart of concepts they do and don’t understand, or list three questions about the topic ranked in order of importance. They can also explain topics verbally or in a simple diagram.

Gamification in Business . . . and Beyond

Classrooms are not the only places where game design is being embraced. One can easily see the appeal in gamifying certain elements of the workplace. Walmart is using three-minute gaming applications to enhance safety training for its employees. Similarly, Qualcomm is fostering employee collaboration with an internal question-and-answer system that recognizes workers with the best answers. Another company, PwC Hungary, developed a game called Multipoly that allows job candidates to “virtually test their readiness [to work] at the firm.” The firm experienced a nearly 200-percent jump in job candidates after implementing the Monopoly-inspired game. Google is even offering mini online games for “this day in history” to help its users get through the day, and to keep engagement high—such as one for Ludwig van Beethoven, celebrating his 245th birthday.

Game design thinking can be used in almost all online (and also offline) arenas to create a more interesting and appealing learning environment and provide instant feedback and reward to learners. It can also trigger positive behavioral changes and boost the bottom line in business, says Asha Pandey, who has 14 years of experience in designing learning solutions across various domains, including online game design. Online gamification is about far more than just playing games. “The learner can experience ‘fun’ during the game and still learn if the level of engagement is high,” says Pandey in an article on, adding that this “leads to a more engaged learning experience that facilitates better knowledge retention.”


Are you ready to take your classroom or workplace up a level with game-design thinking? Anyone attending our Pearson Cite online learning conference in person or virtually this year can listen in on sessions devoted exclusively to gamification in education.  If you’re attending Cite this year, you can earn badges towards your own professional development and share with your networks. Join in the fun virtually, or in person!