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Six Best Practices in Gamification for Education – And the One Thing to Avoid

Gamification is a growing industry and is increasingly important for delivering effective online education. This post will walk you through what gamification means for education, how you can best implement the technology in your courses, and why grades are not all that matters.

You spent countless hours creating the perfect training course, crafting engaging material, and coming up with the perfect examples. Only to have people drop your course halfway through. Or maybe you need to find a way to onboard new employees, but people are not engaging with your content.

You can have the best trainings and the best courses, but if nobody completes them, your time and resources are wasted.

What if your trainings would be so much fun that your employees scramble to complete them? What if you could use your courses to build team cohesion or to create a little friendly competition among your staff?

Gamification, if done right, has the power to transform boring materials into fun adventures. Yes, even those dry onboarding documents!

83% of employees who took part in gamified training at work reported higher workplace motivation and almost 70% of students find gamified classes more engaging.

Before we deep-dive into the six best practices in gamification for education – and the one thing you should avoid doing – let’s find out what gamification is and what it isn’t.

What is Gamification for Education?

In the last 20 years, gamification has become a huge buzzword in the education space.

Gamification is commonly defined as “using game design elements in non-gaming contexts”. Think of the leaderboard in your fitness tracker or the coins collected for each newly learned word in your language learning app. Gamification taps into our natural desire to play.

Gamification for education is the process of making learning more fun and engaging, and, ultimately, more successful. Gamification typically uses different elements such as:

  • badges,
  • reward points,
  • leaderboards,
  • or storytelling to build motivation and interest.

The use cases for gamification in education are huge: language learning, corporate training, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), all benefit from gamification design. After all, we learn best when motivated and engaged, not bored and checked out.

Why is Gamification Important?

Your course competes with a million other things for the attention of your learners. Simply putting texts and videos on a screen will not be enough to engage your audience, when they also have the quick serotonin boost of social media at their fingertips or when their Xbox lures them to the living room.

Even if learners enrol in your training or class, there is no guarantee that they will complete it. In fact, between 40% and 80% of students drop their online classes. Courses that use gamification are up to 10 times more likely to be completed.

By adding fun elements to your classes, breaking down daunting material into achievable lessons, and creating team learning opportunities, gamification increases your chances that your learners will complete courses quickly and successfully.

What isn’t Gamification?

Keep in mind that gamification is more than slapping a leaderboard onto a course and including some cute graphics. It’s tech, psychology, and course design all in one. Gamification is such a huge field that it can be easy to feel overwhelmed, so we collected some of our best practices for you.

Best Practices in Gamification to Help You Succeed

1. Identify a Goal

It’s hard to arrive somewhere if you don’t know where you’re going. Since gamification seems such an intuitive and obvious thing to do, a lot of educators and companies use it in their courses without knowing what they want gamification to achieve.

Before starting on your gamification journey, ask yourself what your goal is. Do you want your courses to be completed as quickly as possible? Or are learning outcomes more important to you? Maybe you want to use your training as a way to foster teamwork. Depending on your goals, you will need different gamification elements.

Don’t worry if you don’t know where to start. There are many fantastic resources on gamification out there. Or let us do the work and book a strategy session with us to find out what gamification can achieve for you.

Take a look at our gamification strategy offer here.

2. Less is More!

Keep it simple. Nothing is worse than frustrating your learners with hard-to-use tech or overly complex rules. After all, you wouldn’t want to play a board game with a 60-page rulebook either.

Use the following strategies to guide your learners through your course:

  • Link every action to a clear outcome or reward.
  • Provide additional guidelines and support.
  • Ensure that your gamification elements are easily understood and intuitive.

Not everybody is tech-savvy, but everybody should leave your course with increased knowledge and motivation.

3. Don’t Overestimate the Leaderboard, but Don’t Disregard It Either

A leaderboard is a great way to create some friendly competition among learners. It allows learners to keep track of their achievements and provides social recognition. A high score list is the most common and the simplest form a leaderboard can take.

There is a reason why almost all gamification designs feature leaderboards. They are commonly known, easy to understand and tap into our natural desire for comparison and community.

However, research shows that in some instances and with some personality types, leaderboards have the reverse effect and can be demotivating. Make sure you know your learners, use the leaderboard sparingly, and never create an overly competitive atmosphere.

Consider resetting your leaderboard from time to time or dividing your learners into segments – for example by department or learning goals – to create a more level playing field.

Level Up’s products include leaderboards, but they are never the centre of our gamification interventions. A little friendly competition has never hurt anyone, but we believe that courses are more effective if they tap into our intrinsic motivation to learn and grow.

4. Take Small Steps to Achieve Big Leaps

You might remember buying a textbook as thick as a tree trunk as a student and feeling immediately demotivated. Similarly, your learners might want to shut their laptops when they see all the material that they are expected to go through.

Microlearning, or microwork, will break down daunting and overwhelming material into small, achievable segments that will deliver instant rewards to your learners. Allow your learners to collect rewards for smaller units and see their motivation increase. Before they know it, they will have worked through the whole material without breaking a sweat.

5. Use the Power of Data

Adding gamification elements to your courses will provide you with real-time and actionable data to understand your employees or learners better. Which topics do they avoid? Where do they need more training? Which groups work best together and who could benefit from more support?

With this data, you can adjust your course, provide more material, or just sit back and enjoy the fact that your learners are thriving.

At Level Up, we take data security seriously. All our products are GDPR compliant, and our Moodle Plugins are certified as privacy-friendly.

6. One Size Fits None!

No two learners are alike. Their goals, learning styles, motivation, or approach to the course may vary widely.

Personalisation is key in implementing a successful gamification strategy.

Ideally, your course will enable each participant to follow their individual learner pathway. For example, a learner might only have access to new content after collecting a specific amount of coins or experience points.

Certain course behaviours, such as always logging on ten minutes late, might trigger additional messages or support offers. Gamification allows you to create an individualised learning environment and increase completion rates.

The One Thing to Avoid

Rewards are a big aspect of gamification. Whether collecting points or short supportive messages, rewards are a great way to engage and motivate learners.

One thing we advise against is tying rewards to grades. Grading students can limit their creativity and willingness to take risks. If you are unwilling to abolish grades altogether, consider not making them the focus of your course.

Adding gamification to your class allows you to complement grades with experience points that reflect every aspect of learning. There are many creative ways to reward your learners beyond grades such as points for course behaviour like punctuality or teamwork.

Successful learning is more than good grades and our gamification implementation reflects that. Our Moodle Plugins XP and XP+ give the instructor the flexibility to award points to whatever matters most to them and their learners.


The possibilities of gamification for education are endless. Employed strategically and consciously, gamification increases completion rates, motivation, and learning outcomes.

Our best practices in gamification will help you to make the right decisions when implementing gamification into your courses.

Frédéric Massart
Level Up Team
08 Dec 2022

At Level Up, we create gamification solutions that will set you apart.

Our products provide state-of-the-art gamification elements that easily transform your online courses and programs into gamified adventures. Talk to us about creating a customised gamification solution for you, and let the games begin!

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