I’m a perfect target for marketing driven by gamification, as evidenced by the amount of money I spend at Starbucks; by the point-earning search engine I use on my computer; and by the fitness trackers and tied-in apps I can use to earn points across platforms, competing with friends on various leaderboards on a daily basis. College students, who were likely raised with video games as an everyday part of life, are even more receptive to being engaged in this manner.

To tap into this growing, but still experimental, strategy, many teachers are using gamification in the classroom, allowing students to “level up” as they progress through the semester, or relying on simulation games to put students in the mindset of their subjects. Whether or not you are drawn to gamification yourself, you may want to look into ways you can incorporate game-like strategies in your classroom.


Some gamification strategies are not new ideas. According to Kevin Ryan in Those Who Can, Teach, 14th edition, simulations are “a time-honored and effective teaching technique…. Simulations have proven to be a fertile field for educational software developers.” (Ryan, 202) For that reason, Ryan recommends software for social science classrooms that allow students to role play aspects of law, team work, and civil rights.

Software is a built-in way to integrate simulation games into the classroom, but non-computer based role playing experiments can be useful as well. The Model United Nations, for example, allows students to experiment with international relations, and has been around, first as the Model League of Nations, since the 1920s. Such large-scale simulations can be adapted to single classrooms in the form of having students:

  • Run a government
  • Organize a marketing strategy for an imaginary business
  • Take the role of reporters after a crisis
  • Develop a political campaign
  • Run a law firm and defend the rights of imagined clients

The classroom as a multiplayer game

Newer approaches to game-like strategies in the classroom are much like the successful business marketing and loyalty rewards techniques that convince customers to return over and over again, or inspire sales forces to achieve higher earning goals for corporations. Some of these rely on competitive strategies which might not work in all classrooms: leaderboards, for example, could be problematic for those whose names never appear in the top ranks. Others, such as earning badges for completing certain assignments, extra credit, or maintaining perfect attendance, could be motivators for the right audience. A charter school in New York City, Quest to Learn, developed an entire curriculum and framework around a gaming model, reorganizing the education system, according to Joey J. Lee and Jessica Hammer in their essay “Gamification in Education: What, How, and Why Bother?” for Academic Exchange Quarterly. Lee and Hammer also cited the work of professor Lee Sheldon, who has remodeled his courses at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to be based on an experience point (rather than grade) model, with assignments being given as “quests,” and students for the course divided into “guilds,” much as they would be in a multiplayer role playing game.

Lee and Hammer note that the goal areas in which gamification can be applied are:

  • Cognitive, promoting exploration and discovery of ideas
  • Emotional, encouraging resilience over failure
  • Social, providing a framework for teamwork.

Have you used gamification in the classroom? What techniques have worked best for you?

Reference: Ryan, Kevin, Those Who Can, Teach 14th edition, Wadsworth Publishing (Belmont, CA), 2015.