Education resources › Blog › Can gamification in education lead to better learning?

Can gamification in education lead to better learning?

Can gamification in education lead to better learning?

5 min read
  • The science of learning

The ever-evolving world of education constantly seeks new ways to captivate students. Enter “gamification” – a trend that has caught widespread attention in recent years as a tool for making learning more engaging and effective.

But what exactly is it? And can it truly lead to better student learning? Read on to learn more about:

  • What gamification is
  • What research says about it
  • The pros and cons of gamification
  • How to use gamification in the classroom

What is gamification?

Gamification is the practice of incorporating game-design elements into non-game settings – in this case, schools. It doesn’t mean turning a classroom into a video game, but leveraging the principles that make games enjoyable and captivating to elevate the Teaching & Learning experience.

By introducing elements like rewards, challenges and interactive activities, gamification can foster a more immersive and interactive environment that motivates learners and enhances their overall engagement and understanding. In this way, it aims to transform traditional educational approaches into dynamic and captivating experiences that inspire curiosity, critical thinking and active participation.

What does research say about gamification?

Introducing game elements into teaching could help tap into a powerful motivator and create an engaging and enjoyable learning experience. Research found that it has the potential to:

  • Improves learning – A study conducted by the University of Colorado found that students who learnt through gamification showed a 11% increase in factual knowledge and a significant 9% increase in retention rate compared to those who didn’t. These findings highlight the potential of gamification to enhance learning outcomes and make the educational process more effective and enjoyable.
  • Increases student engagement – Studies have shown that gamification can significantly boost student engagement. This shows its potential impact in making education more engaging and enjoyable. The reason for this is simple: games are exciting. Incorporating challenges to overcome, rewards to earn and progress to track into their learning means students tend to be more invested in their education.

Furthermore, a recent study synthesised research findings on the use of gamification in education in order to propose an evidence-informed framework for its implementation.

The researchers found that gamification significantly enhanced learning outcomes in education, primarily by boosting students’ motivation and engagement levels, leading to improved cognitive, affective and behavioural learning.

They suggested that three key elements are crucial to consider when designing a gamified learning environment:

  1. Preconditions – These are individual and environmental factors that can influence the effectiveness of gamification. For instance, individual differences among students can impact how they respond to gamified learning.
  2. Learning processes – This involves selecting suitable game elements and providing appropriate instructional supports to effectively engage students in the learning process.
  3. Outcomes – The ultimate goal of gamification is to improve learning outcomes. By stimulating students’ motivation and engagement, gamification can lead to better understanding and retention of material, problem-solving skills and collaboration among students.

Ultimately, the beauty of gamification lies in its flexibility. Whether it’s earning points for completing assignments, unlocking achievements for reaching goals or competing in educational challenges, there are countless ways to integrate game elements into your teaching. This allows you to tailor your approach to meet the needs and interests of your students.

Help your staff understand and apply the latest and most important Cognitive Science research.

So, is gamification good for learning?

The pros of gamification in education

The benefits of gamification go beyond just engagement and learning for your students. They also develop a sense of ownership and autonomy in their educational journey.

The use of game mechanics such as points, levels and rewards create a sense of achievement and progress, encouraging students to take on challenges and strive for continuous improvement, aiding your students to develop a learning mindset. The element of competition in gamification can also drive healthy peer-to-peer interaction and friendly rivalry, further enhancing the overall learning experience.

Tailoring game-based activities to individual students’ needs and preferences can also help create a more engaging and inclusive learning environment. This, in turn, can boost your students’ self-confidence and academic performance, as they feel valued and supported in their educational journey.

The cons of gamification

However, it is important to acknowledge that like any tool, gamification also comes with its drawbacks.

Over-reliance on extrinsic rewards may inadvertently diminish students’ intrinsic motivation, as they may become solely focused on earning rewards rather than the actual learning process. Additionally, the introduction of competition in gamified environments can potentially lead to heightened levels of stress and anxiety among students, which may hinder their overall learning experience.

It’s crucial to implement gamification thoughtfully, taking the impact on students and learning outcomes into consideration. To enhance all students’ educational journey, it needs to strike a balance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and help create a supportive and inclusive learning environment.

When is it best to implement gamification?

Previous research has found that teachers often faced several barriers, such as student apathy and classroom dynamics, when attempting to implement gamification in their classroom. With these in mind, here is when gamification is suggested to be most effective…


Gamification works exceptionally well in subjects that require active engagement and problem-solving. Maths and Science are prime examples. Transforming complex equations or scientific theories into interactive games encourages students to actively participate and think critically.

Alternatively, subjects such as Languages and Humanities often require in-depth understanding, critical thinking and comprehensive analysis. These subjects often demand more traditional teaching methods such as reading, discussions and essay writing to fully grasp the nuances and complexities. Gamification, while engaging, may not provide the depth needed for these subjects.

Students’ age

Research indicates that gamification is most effective for younger students. During these formative years, children are developing their cognitive abilities and are highly receptive to interactive and engaging learning methods. They are naturally curious and often learn best when they are having fun. Gamification appeals to their sense of play and adventure, making it a powerful tool for this age group.

Conversely, as students progress to secondary school and beyond, their learning needs and preferences evolve. They often require more sophisticated learning approaches that focus on critical thinking, problem-solving and real-world applications. While gamification can still be used in some instances, it’s suggested that it should not be the primary teaching method for older students.

Gamification experience

Teachers’ experience and comfort level with gamification has been shown to play a significant role in how effective it turns out to be. Teachers with experience in implementing gamification strategies can effectively incorporate it into their teaching practice.

Final thoughts

Gamification can be a powerful tool in education. It can make learning more enjoyable, improve retention and boost engagement. But it’s not a magic bullet, and it’s important to tailor your approach according to your students’ needs and interests.

Gamification is an exciting frontier in education, offering new ways to inspire and engage your students, and as technology develops along with our understanding from research, hopefully it can offer fresh, new insights into teaching and learning.

To keep your school or college’s staff up to date with the latest forthcoming teaching strategies, join our Teacher CPD Academy.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

Follow on XConnect on LinkedIn