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Gamification & Game-Based Learning - What is it and how it impacts student learning.

By: The PAVE Academy


Video games have come a long way since the introduction of the Commodore 64 and Atari systems in the ’80s and they are having a huge impact on the ways in which we spend our leisure time. According to the 2018 Digital Australia Report, video gaming has become a key element of the typical Australian home with 97% of Australian homes that have children have computer games as a part of their landscape and 80% of those households have more than one gaming device.

Australians play video games for an average of 89 minutes a day (all gameplay) citing “passing time and having fun” as the key reasons why we engage in this form of past time, and with this knowledge, the question needs to be asked, why are we, as teachers, not regularly embedding games and game-based learning activities into our classrooms? If Australians are spending as much time play games as this report suggests, we must find stimulation and engagement in this kind of activity, and with an ever-increasing challenge of capturing and keeping students engagement and attention in the classroom, should we actively embed games and game-based education into our classrooms to combat this issue and should this be happening as a regular element of our pedagogical approach to student learning? Even Albert Einstein understood the importance of games, indicating that “they are the most elevated form of investigation…are avenues for something deeper and more meaningful than a childish waste of time” In the following series of articles, we are going to dig deeper on this topic and unpack tools and strategies that we can implement in our classrooms to engage students through this style of the pedagogical approach. But before we start, there are 2 key terms that you may come across with regards to games in education – they are gamification and game-based learning – and we need to unpack these so that you have a strong understanding of what they are.


‘Gamification’ is the application of typical elements or mechanics of game playing into an activity and this is something that teachers have been doing for eons. So, what are ‘game elements’ that can be added to gamify a lesson? Game elements or game mechanics can include:

  • Storytelling
  • Problem-Solving
  • Critical Thinking
  • Aesthetics
  •  Trial & Error
  •  Rules
  • Collaboration
  • Competition
  • Reward Systems
  • Feedback

If you have a look at that list I am sure that you have a little voice in your head saying “I do that, and I do that…” and it is completely true because teachers do all of these elements in their daily teaching, but the question is not whether do them or not but are we drawing the students attention to them as gamification and will this drive an increase in their engagement? While I type this, I think back to my Grade 3 teacher, Mrs. Manners who, on each Friday afternoon would have us line up between our desks in 2 lines and we would compete in our time’s table races. She would call out a times table and the two students at the front of the lines would take turns in running through the time’s tables as fast as they can while she timed them. The winner would stay, and the next student would come to the front and try to dethrone the reigning champion. This sense of competition – a race with a winner and loser, is an example of Gamification in learning and as I mentioned before, is something that teachers have been embedding in their teaching practice for eons. Another example is the ways in which teachers use a points system to reward good and penalise bad behavior. Like the gold star chart at the front of the room where when a student reaches 10 gold stars can have a kind of reward or the adverse where strikes are placed against students for bad behavior resulting in punishment if they get to 3 strikes. A more popular example is the house points system referred to regularly in the Harry Potter saga (which funnily enough always seemed to be a race between Slytherin and Gryffindor for the house cup) where students were awarded house points for completing achievements or for good behavior, or points were taken if a student broke a rule. These examples show how schools and teachers have been using Gamification in the classroom, but it has never been something that was necessarily promoted, more used as a learning activity or a behavior management tool – which makes me beg the question, what could happen to student engagement if we changed our thinking on this and maybe promoted this pedagogical approach as a game, how could something simple as changing this approaches label change the ways in which students viewed these experiences in the classroom and would it drive their intrinsic motivation to be engaged and immersed in the learning that is happening?

Gamification can also be the awarding of badges for the achievement of particular elements of programs. Take a look at the bottom of emails that you receive from people – can you see any badges there? I know my email signature has badges from Apple, SMART Technologies, and Sphero and they were awarded to me for completing or being a part of different education programs. These badges are examples of where companies, like Apple, Google, SMART, Microsoft, the Kahn Academy, and millions of others, have ‘gamified’ elements of their program, creating levels of connection and participation achieved by meeting requirements/conditions and demonstrated though displaying the badges. This symbol of “leveling up”, as you would do in a video game, is a key component of Gamification which has been adopted across a wide variety of companies and industries around the world. I think about my time in scouts when I was a kid, where I earned badges for completing various tasks that my mum would sew onto the sleeves of my uniform – this is an example of gamification. Recently I attended a SMART Technologies Global Summit, and due to the 2020 COVID-19 restrictions, the conference was held digitally in the SMART 360 Platform. Each interaction in the space earned the attendees points, so if you went to an auditorium session you earned X amount of points, if you went into the exhibition hall and watched some videos or downloaded some resources that were X amount of points, and there was a leader board that displayed attendees and their accumulated points for the day with the top achievers winning prizes

There were even scavenger hunt style games throughout the day, my favorite being the hunt for the SMART Monsters who were scattered throughout the 360 platform – with each find earning you X amount of points. You could sit there and say that this insensitive based approach to engagement can be seen as “tricking” the attendee into getting involved, but I honestly believe that this approach made the day more exciting. Yes, there will be some people who get caught up in the “winning” element, and for full disclosure, I did get a little caught up in finding all the 9 monsters and was getting a little frustrated when I couldn’t find that last one, but this form of engagement can also be seen as rewarding, a way of giving back to those who were going to engage anyway and using positive reinforcement to support their engagement.

This makes me think about the ways in which we reinforce behavior in the classroom. I have had many a conversation with teachers, and graduates especially, around ways in which they manage the student behavior in their classrooms and how I was able to have minimal classroom management issues in my own class. While I didn’t necessarily gamify all the learning in my classroom like we are speaking of here, I did positively reinforce good behavior and achievement, which drove students towards practicing good behavior and achieving personal successes. Does gamification in the classroom achieve the same outcome?

Another example is how Kahn Academy are gamifying their courses. On their Kahn for Educators webpage, the Kahn Academy is helping teachers engage with their learning programs through the use of gamification elements like a scavenger hunt and downloadable certificate templates that can be presented to students for achievement. This celebration of achievement allows students to drive their involvement and work towards small goals. Yes, this element is embedded into the platform to encourage students to engage with the Kahn Academy regularly, but if you step back and think about the bigger picture, it is teaching students to break down large tasks into smaller “bite-size” pieces and then is rewarding them for achieving each small goal along the journey to overall success. 

This practice is a very important lifelong learning strategy to ensure that students are able to undertake and complete larger tasks once they are out of school and actively engaged in the workforce. So, at this point in the article, you may be thinking “ok so now I get Gamification, but what is Game-Based Learning?” To be completely honest, these 2 terms are very similar if not the same in their meaning. Game-Based Learning (GBL) is where the characteristics of games and their principles are embedded into learning activities with the key focus of driving student engagement and motivation, so I guess the key difference between the two terms is the use of the word “learning” – Gamification being for activities and Game-Based Learning being for learning activities…. The use of GBL in the classroom creates a highly engaging, and motivating learning environment for students, promoting authentic collaboration, problem-solving, and communication skills as well as fostering teamwork and peer leadership. It can also extend out to Game-making where students can develop their own educational based games to display their own learning and understanding.

One key element that needs to be considered if you are going to adopt a GBL or gamification element into your classroom is the WHY! While they can be effective engagement tools, it is important to ask yourself if the gamification is actually improving the learning, or is it something that you are doing just for the sake of it? Too many times have I seen teachers and schools adopting what could be categorized as “the latest trend” to ensure that they stay up to date with educational developments without thinking about the effect it has directly on the learning. Yes, gamification is a fantastic tool and should be used in the classroom, but it needs to be used at the right time and in the right way. It should only be used if it helps the teacher and students achieve the learning intentions or the WHY. This is the most important element and if we get distracted by activities that are “on trend” then we will have a highly engaging learning environment that has a group of highly driven and motivated students who go nowhere because the learning is not pushing them to develop and improve. Like I have said before, a hammer is a fantastic tool for pushing a nail into a piece of wood but is a terrible tool for dusting fine china on the shelf – as teachers we need to ensure we are choosing the right tool that helps us get the job done, and done well.
In all forms of education, gamification has been included but most of the time we don’t acknowledge it as a “game”. Is this a mistake? Does the idea of games have a negative connotation when related to something as serious as “education and learning”? I encourage all of you to think about ways in which you can include gamification and GBL in your future planning and lesson delivery and explore ways in which you can use it to create powerful, engaging, and inspirational classes that have students not only achieving their learning intentions but also pushing the boundaries of their potential.

Questions that can drive your integration of the Substation into the learning in the classroom and can spark professional discussions with your colleagues.


What am I doing in my current teaching practice that is the gamification of learning?


Would the use of GBL help motivate my students to learn? What element of the curriculum could this have the biggest impact on?


What are my colleagues doing in their lessons that I might like to adopt into mine?


How can I transform a current learning activity or project into a Game-Based Learning Task?


How can GBL help me plan and execute cross-curricular activities in my classroom?


DA:18 Digital Australia Report
By: J. Brand, S Todhunter & J. Jervis
Published by: Interactive Games & Entertainment

12 Examples of Gamification in the Classroom
By: Ryan Schaaf & Jack Quinn
Published by:

Encouraging student motivation with Kahn Academy
By: Meaghan Pattani
Published by Kahn Academy

Game-Based Learning
By: Top Hat
Published by:

Game-Based Learning – What Is It?
By: Digital Technologies Hub
Published by: Digital Technologies Hub

Game-Based Learning
By: Annie Pho & Amanda Dinscore
Published by: Association of College & Research Libraries & American Library Association

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