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Beyond K-12: 8 Reasons Why Higher Education Should Adopt Gamification

by Ethan Dunwill on February 23, 2016


Gamification Badges Picture (

Game-based Teaching Techniques Have Been Native to K-12 Forever. They can be Fun and Functional in Higher Ed too.

Gamification has been part of teaching strategy in K-12 even before it was common for computers to exist in the classroom. Teachers have used games for decades to keep students engaged in the learning process, to make instruction easier to digest for students with varying learning styles, to get an idea of how students are doing that may not be reflected in test scores, and to boost morale in the classroom.

Today, the things that are being done in the K-12 setting are often rather remarkable. Now that it is fairly common for students to have in-classroom access to computers, notebooks, tablets, or even wearable technology, the potential uses and impact of gamification has been significantly increased. While it may be more obvious to think of gamification as having a place in K-12, with younger students, there is also plenty of exciting potential for uses of gamification techniques in higher education.

Teachers can certainly learn from and adopt some of the approaches that K-12 instructors and curriculum specialists have taken, and apply them to the college classroom.

Here are few ways in which gamification can work in higher education:

Gaming Can be Used to Make Self-Paced Online Learning More Engaging

Many students in higher education are taking advantage of online learning opportunities. These programs give them the flexibility to take college level courses and pursue degrees, even if they do not have physical access to a campus, and when time constraints necessitate taking classes at their own pace.

Unfortunately, the design of many of these classes often leaves a bit to be desired. The material can be dry, with limited interaction to keep students engaged. Online students can also be distracted by their environment more readily than their class-bound peers, and become less engaged than they need to be to successfully master the material.

Adding elements of gamification can help to make online course content and assignments more interactive. Look for opportunities to bring social aspects to the incorporation of gaming constructs to fill another gap (the lack of social interaction) that is typically present in online course work (more on this subject below).

Devices Are Already in Students’ Hands Why Not Put Their Learning There as Well

While many instructors have strong opinions about the use of student’s personal devices in their classrooms, the truth is, these devices are here to stay. So, why not use gaming to put the things that students are learning on a device that naturally creates and encourages engagement.

One simple example of bringing gaming aspects to student devices is using a tool like the Kahoot! Student Response System to create engaging, interactive question sets that students can respond to, bringing a fun sense of competition while gathering feedback and reinforcing learning.

Use of Games Can Harness The Competitive Nature of College Students

Many college students are already active gamers. They may play games via social media or platforms such as steam, they may be heavily involved in platform based games, or they may be involved in online gaming like World of Warcraft. Even the college student who is not a heavy gamer has probably wasted a few nights playing Tetris or Angry birds.

The reason that college students, and others, become so involved in gaming, can often be attributed to a competitive nature. That same competitiveness can be leveraged in the college classroom to get students excited about accomplishing tasks, and interacting with their fellow students. If students are partnered up or divided into teams, the impact may be even greater.

Hard Concepts May be Easier to Tackle With Gaming Added to Classroom Instruction

Some students can do the required reading and ‘get it’. Other students need to participate in a classroom discussion. For others, the explanation provided in a lecture is what drives it home. For other students, the experience of playing a game that is related to what they are learning is what makes the difference. They may form an emotional bond with the game, or they may simply get the material more because it is presented in so many different ways throughout the video game. In any case, video games may be able to keep college students engaged in innovative technologies until they learn things that for whatever reason may not be obvious to them.

Gaming in The Classroom Can Offer Meaningful Short Term Rewards

Earning a badge, moving up a level, unlocking a new character, finding an Easter egg; these are all things that somebody playing an online game may be rewarded with. It may seem silly to many people, gaming constructs like these can provide small, yet important short term rewards to the students who are playing them.

Heck, gaming hasn’t grown to be a huge industry because people have to be dragged to the table … more and more grown men and women, entrenched in their own careers, spend time playing games for the sheer pleasure of it. Why not leverage them in the pursuit of better learning outcomes?

Gaming For Online Students Can Reduce Their Sense of Isolation

One of the issues that students face when they are taking online courses, is a sense of isolation. Even if students meet online regularly for class discussions, that may not give them the sense of connectedness that they would have if they were in a classroom with other students, participating in conversations and personally witnessing the emotional reactions of their peers.

With gamification, students can be paired off or divided into teams where they work together and interact with one another to collaborate on relevant educational games. When this happens, students can form bonds with one another, and that can make online learning seem less isolating.

Gaming in The Classroom Involves More Senses, Which Can Stimulate a Richer Sense of Engagement

Many teachers accept the idea that the more senses that are involved in education, the more readily better students can learn. Even things as simple and basic as requiring students to read aloud, write things on the board, and have in class conversations are based on this premise that seeing, hearing, and writing evoke three of the five senses and make it more likely for students to master what is being taught.

There is no doubt that gaming is a multisensory experience. For this reason, gaming in the classroom may not only be appealing to a wider variety of students, it might also be significantly more effective as well.

Games That Require Strategizing Can Boost Critical Thinking Skills and More

In well-designed video games, players create strategies, make plans, collaborate with other players, and memorize sequences. They also develop insights based on previous events, and how the characters in the game have behaved in the past. Each and every one of these activities has a direct impact on the student’s ability think critically.


Anybody who initially thinks about gaming in the classroom, may understandably see it as inappropriate for higher education. However, the truth is, gaming absolutely does have the ability to help college students to succeed, develop the skills that they need, and stay interested and engaged in their courses. Gamification is already working in the K-12 setting, and many college students are already engaged in gaming outside of the classroom. So go ahead … get your game on!


Ethan Dunwill is an entrepreneur, marketing expert and blogger. He is also extremely passionate about self-improvement and society issues.
You can connect with Ethan via Twitter or his personal blog.

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