Category Archives: Gamification


Looking through the attributes of a good game it is obvious that several of them are connected with motivation. Teachers know that motivation is at the core of effective learning and one of the main complaints I hear around the staff room (expressed in a number of ways) is the lack of students’ motivation.  Fishman points out that students don’t lack motivation, they are just not always motivated towards our learning goals.

A key theory of motivation is Achievement Goal Theory. AGT identifies three types of motivational orientations:

  1. Mastery Orientation. These students are motivated to achieve mastery in their learning. This is the preferred type of motivation and leads to better learning outcomes.
  2. Performance Approach Orientation. These students are motivated to look good. this may mean a student strives for an A to look good, but if in their peer group a C looks good, then that will be their goal.
  3. Performance Avoidance Orientation. These students are motivated not to look bad. They will be satisfied with any mark that doesn’t make them look dumb, or failing that they will try to hide their performance.

Research has found that the orientation is an indicator of success, with mastery orientation supporting the best learning outcomes and performance avoidance the worst. Surprisingly, it has been discovered at Michigan University that Gameful Learning design mutes the effect of performance orientations.

Students may still [have that performance orientation], but you’ve created a safe space for them to feel like they can accomplish what they want to accomplish, and not let their performance drive be … what’s really ruling their decision making.

Barry Fishman

So in summary, Gameful Learning Design overcomes motivation orientations which are limiting effective learning.

At this point in the MOOC I was starting to get very excited about Gameful Learning, as I could see that my intuitive sense that gameful design improved learning was supported by research findings and learning theory.

Next we will move on to look at motivation and ‘flow states’.

Good Games

In my last post I started thinking about the work of Barry Fishman on Gameful Learning. I got as far as concluding that school is a game, but not a very good one. On the other hand, we know from experience that good games are powerful learning environments, but the learning is generally not very useful outside the game. The logical conclusion from this is, if we could make school into a better game then useful learning would be enhanced.

In his EdX MOOC (Gameful Learning 101), Fishman identifies 10 principles behind good games.

1      Clear Learning Goals

Games all have clear and well defined goals.

2      Identity Play

In game play the identity of the player merges into a game identity. It is easiest to understand this in the context where a player identifies with a character in a computer game

3      Embedded Assessment

Games don’t stop to see what you have learned. Skill is demonstrated and rewarded within the game play.

4      Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

Games have built in motivators which reward play. They also have extrinsic motivators, for instance digital badges which can be shared to earn status in the game community.

5      Support Autonomy

In a good game the players are often allowed (or encouraged) to explore and find their way through he game. They are also often able to find alternative ways to play the game.

6      Encourage Belonging

Good games are supported by communities that promote belonging. Sports clubs and online communities for computer games are examples.

7      Support Competence

As competence grows the games gets harder and more enjoyable.

8      Productive Failure

In a game failure is never final. Gamers know they can come back and learn from their mistake.

9      Encourage Exploration

A game always encourages exploration. In any game a good gamer will explore, even after competing a level, to find out more about the level and a better way to complete it. This is particularly true of computers games. Another example is golf, as golfers will repeatedly play a course to improve their score and find better solutions to the problems the course presents.

10    Practice and Reinforcement

Practicing a game is rewarded by improvement in the skills of the game.

The School Game

If some of these attributes of a good game can be applied to education, then the game we call school will be improved. Leading to improved student engagement and learning.

How to do that will be covered in future posts.

What is Gameful Learning?

I am currently working through a MOOC led by Barry Fishman and offered through EdX by University of Michigan on Gameful Learning.

I have written previously on Gamification and Game-Based Learning and while this can be effective, it concerned me that there is a danger that (for the students) the learning activity might become more about winning the game than learning. This is  true for Game-based Learning and badly designed Gamification. One of the things that attracted me to research Gameful Learning is that it seemed to be a way of keeping the positive aspects of Gamified Learning while maintaining learning as the goal for students.

In developing the principles of Gameful Learning Fishman has progressed Gamification and made connections with other learning theories such as Vigotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development and theories about motivation including Achievement Goal Theory.

School is a game

What is a game? Fishman does some analysis of games and concludes that there are  key elements that define a game.

  1. A games has rules. These may not necessarily make any sense in the real world, but they are consistent within the game.
  2. A game has goals.
  3. A game has its own context or environment.

Looking at this definition we can see that school is a game, just not a very good or well designed one.

Looking at this from the other direction, games are good teachers. It is just that what they teach is often not very useful.

The core of Fishman’s MOOC is about redesigning learning so that it is a good game rather than a bad one.

In my next post I will investigate the principles of a good game.

Gamification: Making sure the game is ‘learning’

In my last post I asked some questions about gamification using digital badges. The gist of my concern was that digital badges may become victims of their own success. Specifically, the game might end up being more about badge collecting than learning. Secondly, if badges are the driver for engagement in learning activities then students may revert back to old habits when the badges lose their novelty.

We need to be developing the 21st century skill of innovation in our students, making independent learners of them. The danger with digital badges is that students may instead become, or remain, reward  and guidance dependent learners.

So is this an argument against digital badges? Absolutely not. It is important to reward learning and digital badges are excellent rewards. The pleasure of the reward, however, must be transferred back onto the learning that took place. Students need to learn to take pleasure in learning if they are to become independent learners. I believe this can be achieved if the badges are designed well.

It is important for the badge criteria to be written to reward specific learning outcomes, that need to be demonstrated consistently. Students should know exactly what the requirements for the badge are and be able to consistently meet those requirements. In other words an element of consolidation needs to be factored into the badge. In this way students are being rewarded for learning rather than completion.

I believe it is also important to use progressions of badges, so that students are encouraged to build on prior learning. This emphasises the notion that learning is a process and also consolidates the prior learning.

Many badge systems use groups of badges to work towards a higher badge. For instance science, technology, engineering and maths badges combined earn a STEM badge. While this might be suitable for holiday programs I believe it encourages the ‘collector’ mentality and I think that the progression model is more powerful for learning.

As an example of a badge progression here are a series of badges for developing skills in collaborative problem solving:


Basic badge


When solving a non-trivial problem in a collaborative context the recipient

  • Recognizes the role of others in solving problem
  • Shares resources
  • Communicates strategies to achieve a common understanding of the problem

Bronze badge


When solving a non-trivial problem in a collaborative context the recipient

  • Shows perseverance and commitment to solving the problem together with peers
  • Approaches the problem systematically, setting goals and evaluating different strategies
  • Can make connections between different pieces of information
  • Is aware of the performance of their peers, and can see their own performance objectively

Silver badge


When solving a non-trivial problem in a collaborative context the recipient

  • Acts with planning and purpose, drawing on prior knowledge and experience
  • Can adapt and change with new information
  • Initiates interactions and responds to contributions from peers but may not resolve differences or change plans

Gold badge


When solving a non-trivial problem in a collaborative context the recipient

  • Assumes group responsibility for the task
  • Works through the problem efficiently using only relevant resources
  • Tailors communication and incorporates input from peers, changing plans and resolving conflict as necessary
  • Can reorganize the problem in an attempt to find a new solution path


Badges like these are a powerful way of developing independent learning skills in students because:

  • Each badge builds on the previous one, so that students consolidate existing skills as they move on to the next badge.
  • They can also see what the next badge is awarded for and work towards it, advancing their learning while still giving the students ownership.
  • The badges are focussed on their collaborative behaviour in the group over time, they can’t simply ‘do collaboration’ and move on.
  • The badges are hierarchical, but there is no pass/fail line. Students can enter the sequence at any point and move on to maturity in collaborative problem solving. They don’t reach a point where they can consider themselves ‘satisfactory’ in this skill.

By constructing our digital badges in this way I believe that the focus is always on continuous learning. We are therefore developing independant learning habits in our students. We are making sure that the game is learning.