Gamification and the curriculum: Opportunities for innovation

What is gamification?

There are a variety of theories regarding the definition of gamification. While some apply this label in a very broad sense to include any application of game based design or thinking, others maintain that the term gamification should only be applied when its use involves “…engagement, story telling, visualization of characters or problem solving” (Kapp, 2012, p.12). Generally the term gamification can be applied where gaming principles and elements are being used in a non-gaming context (Deterding et al, in Wood & Reiners, 2012; Kapp, 2014). Some teachers are labelling their reward systems as examples of gamification (Kapp, 2012, p.12). While reward systems or charts have been used in classrooms for years, there is a growing trend to adapt badges that are used in video games as part of these reward systems. However, the question still remains whether applying a different mask to an existing reward system counts as innovation (Kapp, 2012).

Kapp (2014) recognises two types of gamification; structural and content based. Structural gamification is the adaptation of scoring systems and progression that is used in gaming systems. An example of this is using a progressive quiz where students are rewarded with correct answers by progressing to higher levels of challenge, whereas those tho answer incorrectly are directed to material to help them learn (Kapp, 2014). As students progress through levels their achievement is recorded on a leader board as they are awarded with experience points.

Content gamification involves adapting content to make the experience more game-like (Kapp, 2014). This type of gamification involves elements such as story telling, challenge and curiosity. An example of content gamification would be requiring students to take on a role in a problem-solving situation where students are offered challenge suitable to their level and the opportunity to progress dependant on their success (Kapp, 2014). The students are then awarded points that recognises their success.

In both types of gamification, grading is always seen as a positive aspect with players adding points to their experience tally on the leader board, without the prospect of losing points and going backwards students are given the feeling of constant improvement and advancement (Kapp, 2014).

Why use gamification? Gamification’s basis within learning theories 

Theories of learning support the use of gamified learning. Constructivism and the theory on intrinsic and extrinsic motivation both support the use of gamification.

Robinson (in TED, 2013) highlighted a potential crisis in high school education with rocketing dropout rates due to a generation of students who are driven away from the traditional education system. Robinson (in TED, 2013) stressed that unless schools started adopting more relevant teaching styles and content for this generation then the situation will not improve.

The attention of twenty-first century learners is limited and needs to be optimized and focused in a way that engages the learner (Kapp, 2012, p.22). Games use extrinsic motivation through reward systems while at the same time using intrinsic motivation strategies such as challenge, curiosity, control and fantasy (Alexe, Zaharescu, & Apostol, 2013; Kapp, 2012). Games use competition as a powerful motivator for success and employ a positive assessment strategy of experience points rather than traditional grades (TedxYouth 2013). The enjoyable aspect of gameplay adds to the motivation of the gamer and encourages them to continue playing despite experiencing challenges (Sandberg, Maris & de Geus, 2011).

Kapp (2012) argues that the outcomes of learning from game based instruction are higher than those using traditional methods. Games are most effective as a learning tool when it offers more than extrinsic motivation and gives the gamer an opportunity to reflect on the gameplay to make connections to the intended learning objectives (Kapp, 2012, p.102; TedxYouth 2013).

Social constructivist theory states that learners are not simple receivers of learning but play an important role in constructing that learning themselves (Herring, 2011). This involves using prior knowledge and constructing new understandings, making connections and using social contexts to learn and reflect (Herring, 2011; Sandberg, Maris & de Geus, 2011).

Games provide learners with a safe space for learning where it is acceptable to try and fail while developing a sense of mastery (Alexe et al, 2013, TedxYouth, 2013). Engagement is enhanced through competition with other players as the gamer strives to complete a level and stretch their skills within the game (Alexe et al, 2013). The game must be based in a context that is meaningful for the learner otherwise the aspect of competition and storytelling will have no impact (Edmonds, 2011).

The adoption of gamification is not limited to educational settings. Businesses are increasingly using this technique to promote and maintain motivation with their organisations. Within the next decade, over half of the organisations that work in innovation will gamify their processes (Kapp, 2012, p. 19).  This is a further justification for gamifying learning, as these are organisation in which this generation of students will be working.

This infographic created by Knewton (2011) shows not only the benefits and rationale for gamification but also its development over the last 30 years.
Gamification Infographic

Created by Knewton and Column Five Media

How does gamification fit within the curriculum?

Gamification is seen as the solution to fighting the decreasing motivation and increasing apathy of learners (Wood & Reiners, 2012). ACARA has recognised that critical and creative thinking skills are vital in responding to twenty-first century challenges (ACARA, n.d.a). Gaming principles provide learners with the opportunity to develop their problem solving skills while expressing and developing their creativity. Minecraft enables gamers to create an entire world, a multitude of other games give them the chance to at least modify their experience. The critical and creative continuum in the Australian Curriculum is intended to teach students to “…generate and apply new ideas in specific contexts, seeing existing situations in a new way, identifying alternative explanations, and seeing or making new links that generate a positive outcome” (ACARA, n.d.b).

Critical thinking skills are built through video games as gamers gain information throughout the levels and need to analyse and apply this information in order to progress to the next level. There are real life implications for the skills learnt in games through the constant process of hypothesising and testing leading to solutions (Barseghian, 2011).

Hesterman (2011) highlighted the rich source that popular culture and technology can be for educators. Children are exposed to these technologies from birth and have the opportunity to naturally learn the associated media literacy skills through their constant use of technology (Hesterman, 2011). Hunter (in gcLi Leadership, 2013) believes that by finding out what students love doing and tapping into that passion, students become excited about learning and are more engaged in the process.


How are teachers gamifying their classroom?

Teachers all over the world are looking for ways to make learning more meaningful for their students. Gamification is one of the new ways in which learning is changing. Mr Pai is a third grade teacher at a school in the United States who has embraced the use of games and technology in his classroom (OLTV19, 2010). He has taken a class that recorded below average scores in standardized tests and transformed them into a class that is performing beyond their grade level within four months (OLTV19, 2010). Through using games he was able to tailor the learning to the needs of individual students and provide them with engaging learning activities for learning basic mathematics and reading skills (OLTV19, 2010).  Students were so inspired by this method of learning that they began a petition to create a law dictating that all classrooms in their state should be equipped with the same technology so that all students have a chance to learn using computer based games (OLTV19, 2010).

Not every example of gamification uses technology. To qualify as gamification, aspects of game mechanics need to be applied to non-game situations (Kapp, 2012). One of the most well known uses of game mechanics in education is The World Peace game. This is a game that was created by a fourth grade teacher where students must work in teams to solve real world problems facing world leaders while interacting with other countries (Rosalia Films, 2010). Students need to use creative and critical thinking skills to make decisions as a group and solve problems. This has led to rich discussions between these students about the positives and negatives of conflict and peace. The World Peace game uses the gaming aspect of role-play to place these students into this situation so that they care for the outcome and are able to try out solutions without the fear of penalty or failure (gcLiLeadership, 2013).

Where to now?

Gamification is a trend that is not only sweeping through education but a variety of different industries. The use of game mechanics in learning is supported by learning theories, and the critical and creative thinking outcomes that are backed by the Australian Curriculum (ACARA, n.d.a). There are a plethora of resources online that assist teachers who want to begin gamifying their classroom. While there are corporations that cater to the gamification trend, individual classrooms teachers can be the driving force that introduces gamified learning to their schools and students can be the ultimate winners.


Reference List


ACARA. (n.d.). The Australian Curriculum: Critical and creative thinking – Introduction. Retrieved from:

ACARA. (n.d.). The Australian Curriculum: Critical and creative thinking – Scope of critical and creative thinking. Retrieved from:

Alexe, I., Zaharescu, A., and Apostol, S. (2013). Gamification of learning and educational games. In Conference proceedings of” eLearning and Software for Education“(eLSE) (No. 02, pp. 67-72). Retrieved from

Barseghian, T. (2011). Five reasons why video games power up learning. Mindshift. Retrieved from

Edmonds, S. (2011). In Gamification of learningTraining and Development in Australia, 38(6), 20-22. Retrieved from

gcLiLeadership. (2013). gcLi Leadership Edge : Episode : John Hunter ,  Creator World Peace Game. [Video file]. Retrieved from:

Hesterman,S. (2011). Multiliterate Star Warians: The force of popular culture and ICT in early learning. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 36 (4), 86-95

Kapp, K. M. (2012). The Gamification Of Learning And Instruction: Game-Based Methods And Strategies For Training And Education. John Wiley & Sons. Retrieved from:

Kapp, K. (13 May, 2014). What is gamification?: A new idea [Video file].  Retrieved from:

OLTV19. (11 June, 2010). Exciting new approach to classroom learning [Video file]. Retrieved from:

Rosalia films. (7 September, 2010). World peace and other fourth grade achievements trailer [Video file].

Sandberg, J., Maris, M., & de Geus, K. (2011). Mobile English learning learning: An evidence-based study with fifth graders. Computers in education, 57(1), 1334-1347.

TED. (2013, May 3). Ken Robinson: How to escape education’s death valley [Video file]. Retrieved from:

TedxYouth. (12 June, 2013). The gamification of education: Gavin Pouliot at  TEDxYouth [Video file]. Retrieved from:

Wood, L. C. & Reiners, T. (2012). Gamification in logistics and supply chain education: Extending active learning. IADIS International Conference on Internet Technologies & Society 2012, 101-108.


Header image courtesy of Throwback Reviews. Retrieved from


— Digital Essay by Penelope Doyle.