Gamification and motivation

This week we’ve been introduced to the concept of educational gamification by our peers who are leading the final seminar of this module, and I’ve really appreciated the opportunity to experience some gamified education from the learner perspective.   I came to this activity late after being away on holiday so I’ve experienced a short sharp shock into this technique and I’d like to explore how and why my own motivation was influenced by the nature of the activity.

What was the game?

We were required to take part in The Reading Game:

  • complete recommended reading of a variety of articles on gamification
  • create one multiple choice question for our peers, based on that reading
  • answer five questions which had been created in the same way
  • rate and comment on the quality of the questions written by our peers

Gamification: How was it?

I had a lot of work to catch up on and two clear days to do it so my intrinsic motivation was high.  I had also heard snippets about the game and was curious to find out what it was all about.  In Moodle, a leader board showed high scores from participants who had been working for 10 days longer than me and I knew straight away that I would not get to the top of the leader board in the time I had. I felt a bit deflated.  Putting that to one side I carried on with the Reading Game and found myself answering the multiple choice questions by guessing, and completing it quickly so I could tick it off a list.  This isn’t how it was meant to be!  I could see that this could be more educational so why was I behaving like this?  I usually enjoy games and challenges, and I knew my colleagues had worked hard to produce this, but something was wrong, I was going through the motions to complete activities required of me, but I wasn’t thinking about what I was doing and I wasn’t learning anything.

Why was I not motivated?

IMG_3073As we find in real life, Dominguez et al (2012) showed that not all learners find competition motivating, and this has been echoed in anecdotal evidence from peers in this cohort; some have been actively demotivated by the competitive elements of the game, myself included.  However, I would previously have said that I am competitive and enjoy games;  I take a pub quiz very seriously and go to great lengths to win at Monopoly! Something that Penny Robertson said struck a chord with me: that in this situation, my learning journey is personal.  I don’t want to compete with my peers, competing against myself is more interesting and I’m motivated to improve on what I did last time.  Glover (2013) recommends rewarding learners for improving on their own ‘personal best’ rather than that of the cohort.

Another factor to consider is that performance goals may not improve learning (Meece et al, 2006, cited in Glover, 2013).  In the Reading Game I was simply trying to complete a task in the quickest way possible, I wasn’t made to critically engage and I could get away by completing the activity shoddily.

My demotivation could be described as the overjustification effect (Groh, 2012): extrinsic recognition demotivates learners with already high intrinsic motivation.  Indeed, Deci, Koestner & Ryan (2001, cited in Nicholson, 2012) found that in educational settings, almost all forms of reward reduced intrinsic motivation.

Meaningful gamification

If I were to use game elements in my own practice for motivational purposes, it would be important to apply this to an appropriate scenario, one where there were already problems with motivation.  I would need to ensure that the game-based elements were meaningful and rewarding to the learner without the external rewards (Nicholson, 2012).  For example the game would provide some feedback or data to the learner, on which they could base decision-making to achieve personal goals.  Nicholson (2012) gives the example of the dashboard of a hybrid car presented in a game-like way to encourage the driver to make driving decisions based on the data for economical driving. This ensures intrinsic rewards and goes some way towards increasing intrinsic motivation and personal satisfaction.  Learners have a wide variety of backgrounds and preferences so creating a motivating game based activity which motivates all learners would be challenging.  Game elements can be motivational where they are optional, so I would aim to provide a choice of activities to allow already motivated learners to remain motivated, and for the remaining learners to choose game elements if they wanted to (Glover, 2013).


Often, gamification falsely promises to imbue learning with the carefully crafted elements of game design (Deterding, 2011) and in practice it is very difficult for a teacher to design gamified learning with the required balance of a successful game.  Perhaps the good ideas behind the concept of gamification boil down to some of the principles of good teaching: learner choice, inclusivity, effective feedback and clear goals.


Deterding, S. (2011). Meaningful Play:  Getting gamification right. Available from: [Accessed 16 April 2016]

Domínguez, A., Saenz-de-Navarrete, J., De-Marcos, L., Fernández-Sanz, L., Pagés, C., & Martínez-Herráiz, J. J. (2012). Gamifying learning experiences: Practical implications and outcomes. Computers & Education, 63, 380-392. Available from: [Accessed 16 April 16]

Glover, I. (2013). Play As You Learn: Gamification as a Technique for Motivating Learners. World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications, 2013(1), 1999-2008 Available from: [Accessed 16 April 16]

Nicholson, S. (2012). A User-Centered Theoretical Framework for Meaningful Gamification. Paper presented at the Games+Learning+Society 8.0, Madison, WI.  Available from [Accessed 16 April 16]


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