How Gamifying Education Brings Out the Best In Students

A chess board illustrates game-based learning
(Image credit: Pixabay)

Playing a video game is, for most people, a form of escapism. But, as we play these games, we also learn–we learn what the game wants from us to succeed, how to avoid potential pitfalls, and even how to manipulate the system inside the game so that it gives us what we want. Throughout the entire process, we are learning.

This approach is the essence of gamifying the learning process.

Dan Ryder, Director of Design and Innovation at Community Regional Charter School in Maine, believes that making learning more like gaming can have a profound effect on students and how they interact with their work. Ryder was recently honored by Tech & Learning during a recent Regional Leadership Summit with an Innovative Leader Award for the Innovative Director of Design & Innovation.

Using Game-Based Learning to Reach Students 


Dan Ryder accepting the Innovative Director of Design & Innovation award (Image credit: Future)

Students, not unlike working adults, may or may not find pleasure in their work.

“What I tried to do with learners is use their love of gaming in whatever way–card games, video games, role-playing games–find the angle in, and then have them become creators of games that demonstrate deeper knowledge [of a subject],” Ryder says. “Instead of writing a book report or preparing a boring project, I’ll have you design a game. I’ll give you the parameters on it for design. And what we’re asking of the kids is to connect the dots between all these things.”

In the gamification process, having a deeper understanding of the subject matter comes across in how well a student can translate it in game form. Adapting characters as historical figures, portraying historical events as environments in a game, and implementing certain rules to provide certain outcomes can all be a part of the learning process. The student creating the game can also demonstrate expert knowledge of the subject being used as the basis of the game, making the gamification process potent as a teaching and learning model.

Raising the Stakes 

One of the hallmarks of gaming is the addition of stakes as having a reason to play is extremely important in becoming the driving force behind your progression. Understanding what the stakes are in game-based learning is important, but it isn’t the only factor necessary to bridge the gap between education and gaming. Knowing what your margin of error is holds equal importance, while being allowed to make those errors can influence growth.

Ryder explains that students need to have a wide berth when it comes to the learning process as it helps them through their educational and professional lives.

“Every game has trials and errors. You try things, you make mistakes. The only way you learn from it is by screwing up, right? Games that don’t have that aren’t really games,” Ryder says. “[And] if the stakes are so high that you can’t afford to lose, then it’s not really a game. It’s gambling, and I would argue that gambling isn’t a game at all. It’s more of a risk-taking exercise. You can’t really game it because you don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Systems, Rules, and Mechanics 

Knowing the stakes is important, but overcoming an obstacle is the main reason you play. Students know about overcoming obstacles throughout their time in school. In order to overcome these, understanding what the world is asking of you plays an important role. Ryder equates this to the mechanics and systems found in any game we play.

“Every game has mechanics and systems. Like Mario, right? There’s a reward system. You get 100 coins, you get a free play. There’s a system to it,” he says. “Then we have rules and guidelines, but rules are different from mechanics. You not being allowed to do something is different than how something works. All of education is one gigantic game system.”

Choice and a narrative (or lesson) are necessary in game-based learning.

“You’ve got choices and consequences in every game. You have the choice you make, and then you have the result of making that choice,” Ryder says. “And finally, you have stories and quests. When I see things get gamified, [people] don’t create stories. They create the most basic system of reward. Maybe there’s a rule involved, but it’s basically a mechanic of performing an action, earning a point, and turning in points for a reward.”

The process of integrating education with gaming is a novel idea that can help open students up to a new side of learning, becoming more accessible and inclusive while also adding an element of fun.


Michael Millington
Senior Staff Writer

Michael Millington is a senior staff writer for Tech & Learning. A writer and editor with over a decade of experience, his focus on bringing actionable information to those in need is the driving force behind his work. When not researching new advancements in technology, Michael likes to practice his Italian and train his dog Cyril.