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Can Gamification Drive Increased Student Engagement?

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Cisco | The bridge to possible

New methodologies in learning can create new distractions for students, especially with remote learning. Gamification may hold the secret to increasing student engagement and keeping classrooms whole.

Gamification is not a new concept in learning. It has been used for centuries in some form or another. The advent of wireless technologies has given gamification new life—creating unique ways to leverage it for even greater learning. This is especially true in hybrid learning environments, where gamification could increase student engagement and create a greater sense of community as the classroom expands beyond physical walls.

What Is Gamification?

In general, gamification is the art of applying the design elements and principles found in games to other contexts. By leveraging these elements, educators can increase user engagement. Gamification can be applied to just about anything digital—from finding information in a database to interacting with customers or rewarding users via a smartphone app. But most importantly, gamification can be applied in digital learning environments to increase students' interest in studying and help them better understand learning material. In a virtual setting, gamification can even help influence behaviors, which can help build a sense of community in the classroom.

The inner workings of gamification are already well understood among gamers, and because virtual games have entered the mainstream, most of the population is now comfortable with the approach. In fact, gamification has also caught on with those who design state and local government websites.Footnote1 In these environments, gamification helps to improve the experience of citizens who access government services by streamlining processes and making interactions with the government more pleasant. In the end, gamification helps to build trust in government and increase citizen engagement.

What Are the Benefits of Gamification for Student Engagement?

Embedding gamification into hybrid learning environments can benefit students in several ways. The main goal is to increase individual student engagement. Gamification helps to achieve this goal in the following ways:

  • Increasing a desire to learn
  • Increasing knowledge retention
  • Optimizing the learning experience
  • Introducing new and more varied types of learning material
  • Influencing positive behaviors
  • Increasing socialization to spur a sense of community

How Does Gamification Increase Student Engagement?

While technology is the primary driver of gamification in our culture today, tech does not necessarily do all the work of engaging "players." Much of this process is driven by the way the human brain is built.

Psychology is the key. Humans typically like challenges. They hate to leave things unfinished, and they deeply desire to reach the finish line first. Games zero in on this natural desire. They use basic human instincts to their advantage. Good games amplify human instincts, and we respond in kind. This creates a perfect environment for successful learning.

But once this process is complete, the human psyche can feel let down since humans also usually strive to serve a greater purpose in their actions. That's where digital gaming excels—by offering recognition via rewards. These rewards can take a variety of forms:

  • Accumulating points that can be used to access things in the virtual or physical world
  • Earning badges to recognize a specific achievement
  • Leaderboards that instill competition and a sense of achievement over time
  • Challenges to spur learners to greater achievement

When embedded into digital learning platforms, these four reward systems can help students feel more engaged and increase their desire to participate. In a way, education becomes less about old-fashioned book learning and more about self-worth, with immediate and tangible benefits that students can see.

What Are Four Simple Ways to Embed Gamification in Education?

For educators seeking to introduce or expand the use of gamification in their classrooms, we offer four simple approaches as a starting point:

  • Award points or badges to students.
    • Points should be awarded whenever a specific task is completed.
    • Points should be redeemable for recognition.
  • Maintain a progress bar to record students' advancement in learning.
    • Indicate specific points along the progress bar that must be met before students are allowed to go to the next step.
    • Indicate overall progress by regularly updating the percentage of completion.
    • Use a progress bar for a specific project, for the entire semester, or both for greater granularity of progress.
  • Use a virtual currency that can be allotted depending on task type or overall goal desired.
    • Indicate the value of all tasks beforehand to help students set individual goals.
    • Treat virtual currency like the real thing so students will assign value to it.
  • Create leaderboards to gauge classroom progress and instill a sense of competition, depending on project type or goals.
    • Digital leaderboards can reflect the personalities of individual students (name, image, catchphrase).

It's also important to let students develop a sense of ownership over the gamification process. Give students the opportunity to be a part of the process from creation and implementation to ongoing maintenance and final recognitions. This will also help build a sense of classroom community, which will have a major impact on student engagement and overall achievement in learning.

What Are Some Things to Consider with Gamification?

As the use of gamification in education increases, it's important to remember that each student approaches it differently. Each student is a character in the story of your classroom and brings different attitudes and life experiences. Students also have their own beliefs and learning needs, which will impact how successful they are in using the gamification tools you offer them. Some will embrace it, and some will not. But all students can benefit from it.

That's why it's important to maximize the variety of new technologies you use in hybrid learning to help gamification reach its full potential. Easy-to-use and secure tools like Webex for education can work with Cisco intelligent endpoints to build a foundation for gamification. For example, Webex offers the feature-rich tools for collaboration, file sharing, and team space recognition that you need to jumpstart and maintain your efforts. Plus, Webex Board and other intelligent endpoint tools can provide the canvas on which leaderboards and other rewards are promoted and analyzed in a community setting.

What Is the Future of Gamification in Education?

The use of gamification strategies in hybrid learning is in its infancy. There is tremendous opportunity ahead for educators who fully understand it and can leverage its potential.

  • Classroom subject matter experts: Education has long used competition to spur students to greater learning. But for many learners, that approach fails to resonate. Yet we see in games and social media that the use of badges to indicate specialized knowledge, status, or ranking seems to sway users who otherwise would not engage. For example, badges could be leveraged to create "subject matter experts" at the classroom level. Badges could also be used for specialized degree recognition or as a form of apprenticeship.
  • Public/private partnerships: Private or public sector organizations could provide funds for students who make achievements in areas related to that organization's purpose. These funds could be distributed via gamification in various ways and at various levels. These types of partnerships could also strengthen relationships between educational institutions and potential employers.

What's Next for Gamification?

Even though gamification in education has been around for centuries, advances in wireless technologies are allowing gamification practices to gain new momentum and power even greater learning. As hybrid learning environments evolve, there is a unique opportunity to leverage technology to power new forms of gamification efficiently and easily. By doing so, educators can increase student engagement while also empowering them and creating a greater sense of community as learning breaks through the traditional limitations of the physical classroom. 


  1. Stephen Goldsmith, "Boosting Engagement by Gamifying Government," Government Technology (website), August 23, 2017. Jump back to footnote 1 in the text.

Kenneth R. Dodson is a Subject Matter Expert at Cisco.

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