Gamification: Instructional Tool or Passing Trend?

College students in a classroom-working together on laptops

Gamification, the use of game mechanics to motivate people and promote learning, has been receiving a lot of buzz over the last couple of years. In the corporate world, businesses have been quick to adopt gamification strategies to incentivize workers, engage customers, and improve performance. Gamification has become so popular, in fact, that it’s estimated that of the 2,000 largest companies in the world, 70% use at least one gamified application. Despite its rising popularity, analysts have warned that the majority of these gamified attempts are unsuccessful, failing to meet business objectives. Indeed, companies seem outspoken about the gamification techniques they are using, but are relatively quiet when it comes to showing evidence of its success.

Unlike the business world, where leaderboards and other competitive strategies may pit employees against each other, gamification in higher education has the potential to be positive, collaborative, and help all “players” succeed. Gamification can be used to engage students, introduce course content, improve subject mastery and assess teaching and learning in measurable ways. Unfortunately, if done haphazardly and without purpose and intent, gamification is likely to go the way of so many other instructional methods over the years, just another hot trend that is easily forgotten as soon as a hotter trend comes along to take its place. This would be a shame. For those of us who have been using games for decades, and will continue to use them far into the future, we realize the positive benefits. The recent hype surrounding gamification is welcome as it’s bringing greater awareness to the various ways we can use games and has encouraged all of us to become more intentional in our use in order to optimize effectiveness. The key to the success of gamification in educational contexts lies in the understanding of the underlying principles of learning. When any instructional technique considers factors related to attention span, engagement, depth of processing, personalization, structured feedback, distributed practice, and so on, it has a good chance of success.

If you are interested in incorporating games and game mechanics into your courses, it will serve you well to start with a solid understanding of both the science of learning and the principles of good game design. Armed with this knowledge you can be infinitely creative in the kinds of games you design to meet your instructional goals. My video below can help you get started.



In case you are interested, here is a Word document with some game ideas for the psychology classroom.


About the Author
Amy Marin, Ph.D.

Amy Marin, Ph.D.

Amy Marin received her doctoral degree from Arizona State University in social psychology. For the past 20 years she has been a full-time faculty member at Phoenix College in the Behavioral Sciences Department where she teaches courses in Social Psychology, Human Sexuality, and Introduction to Psychology. She serves a dual role as faculty coordinator for the Maricopa Institute for Learning, a position which allows her to mentor faculty research projects related to the scholarship of teaching and learning. When she’s not in the classroom, she’s busy developing active learning resources and sharing what she’s learned with others through workshops, presentations, and publications. She has received numerous grants and awards for innovative teaching. She is also the author, along with Roger Hock, of an introductory psychology text.