Gamification in Tertiary Education: Motivating Students and Transforming Learning

Tertiary educators are continually searching for innovative methods to enhance student engagement and improve learning outcomes. Enter gamification, an educational method that integrates game design elements into non-game contexts, such as higher education.

Understanding Gamification

Gamification refers to the use of game elements – such as point scoring, competition with others, rules of play, and other tactics – in order to enhance participation, engagement, and motivation. In the context of tertiary education, gamification is not about turning courses into games, but rather the application of game-based techniques to educational contexts.

Why Gamification Works

The effectiveness of gamification in education can be attributed to its ability to tap into intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Gamification can create a dynamic learning environment that makes learning conditions more engaging. It encourages a sense of accomplishment through reward and competition, while also fostering community among students. Some of the reasons that gamification works include:

  • Enhanced Engagement: Game-like elements such as points and levels can transform mundane academic tasks into exciting challenges.
  • Immediate Feedback: Gamification provides instant feedback, allowing students to understand what they know or need to improve right away, which enhances the learning curve.
  • Increased Motivation: By incorporating elements such as leaderboards or badges for achieving certain milestones, students are motivated to strive harder and achieve more.
  • Encourages Risk-Taking: Gamification creates a safe space for learning, where students can make decisions and experiment without real-world consequences, promoting innovative thinking.

Examples of Gamification in Tertiary Education

Case Study 1: The Economics Quest

At a large university in the United States, an introductory course in Economics used gamification to tremendous effect. The professor transformed the course into a quest for knowledge where students earned “economy points” by engaging in activities such as quizzes, discussions, and peer teaching. These points contributed to their overall grade and could be used to unlock additional content or earn privileges like choosing their project topics. This approach not only made the course more interactive but also allowed students to understand economic principles through a practical, hands-on approach.

Case Study 2: Badge-Based Learning in Environmental Science

Another university implemented a badge-based system in its Environmental Science department to encourage students to participate in outside-the-classroom learning activities. Students could earn badges for a variety of activities, including participating in recycling programs, attending seminars, and contributing to community environmental initiatives. This system helped to reinforce the curriculum’s focus on sustainability and community involvement, making students more passionate about the subject.

Case Study 3: Leaderboards in Software Development Courses

A notable application of gamification has been in the Computer Science department of a tech-focused university, where courses on software development incorporated leaderboards to rank students based on their coding efficiency and creativity. Students received points for writing cleaner, more efficient code, and for incorporating innovative features into their software projects. This competitive environment pushed students to refine their coding skills and fostered a lively community atmosphere in the classroom.

Implementing Gamification: Best Practices

For educational institutions looking to integrate gamification into their teaching models, consider the following best practices:

  • Define Clear Objectives: The goals of gamification must align with educational objectives to ensure that the game elements enhance learning rather than distract from it.
  • Keep It Fair: Ensure that the gamification strategy does not disadvantage or demoralize students who may not be as competitive or game-savvy as others.
  • Use a Variety of Elements: Utilize different gamification techniques to cater to diverse learning styles and preferences.
  • Provide Non-Material Rewards: While physical rewards can be motivating, intrinsic rewards like unlocking new learning opportunities can be just as effective.
  • Feedback and Adaptation: Regularly collect student feedback on the gamification elements and be prepared to make adjustments to improve the learning experience.


Gamification is reshaping the landscape of tertiary education by introducing elements of play into the serious task of learning. This innovative approach does not diminish the seriousness of education but rather enhances student engagement and motivation by leveraging the motivational techniques from games. As more educational institutions begin to understand and implement gamification, the traditional educational models will continue to evolve, making learning a more enjoyable and impactful experience for students worldwide.

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