How To Create Dynamic Learning Environments Using Gamification

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Gamification can enhance learning in college-level coursework. Using characteristic elements that play a significant role in gameplay can create a more dynamic learning environment where students more fully understand targeted concepts. To examine this, I have been researching Twitter as a vehicle that would resonate with the course objectives in a course that I teach on Open Source Intelligence, particularly for a module regarding social media intelligence.

Gamified Classrooms

In From Game Design Elements to Gamefulness: Defining ‘Gamification Sebastian Deterding defines gamification as the use of game design elements in non-game contexts. To understand gamification in academic terms, the task is to determine how to situate gamified applications in relation to existing course context and what elements belong.

From the perspective of the educator/designer the distinction between gamification in teaching and regular entertainment games is that course content is built using elements from games and does not create a full gaming experience. By interacting with these elements, students learn because of the intrinsic participation factor and information reward.

But does gamification reduce internal motivation that the user has for the activity, as it replaces it with external motivation? Scott Nicholson, in a 2012 paper presented at Games+Learning+Society 8.0, sees it more in the context of the game design elements being made meaningful to the user through information. Internal motivation can then be improved as there is less need to emphasize external rewards or, in other words, grades.

In my training and practice as a librarian, I’ve come to view the value of information gap fillers. When the bridge is made from the point of a knowledge breakdown, conflict, or gap, then information itself becomes the reward. I’ve found with my students, filling in gaps means that they are meeting tasked objectives.

A key concept in information science research is the idea of relevance as it relates to information retrieval. Nicholson continues, “the concept of situational relevance is important when thinking about gamification. Without involving the user, there is no way to know what goals are relevant to a user’s background, interest, or needs. In a points-based gamification system, the goal of scoring points is less likely to be relevant to a user if the activity that the points measure is not relevant to that user.”


A significant challenge in creating this type of a broad system is developing a strategy to encompass a wide variety of user skillsets. The structure of the game guided by course objectives could be as simple as identifying a bibliographic source that has been verified and corroborated against other information, or identifying trends associated with various hashtags. Ultimately, the student is allowed to add a verified source to the class Twitter feed as it organically evolves through future iterations.

When applying the concepts behind student-generated content to meaningful gamification, the underlying idea is that the instructors develop a system where users track different aspects of the non-game activity, create their own leveling systems, develop their own game-based methods of engaging with the activity, and share that content with other users. This is inherently built into the various hashtags generated by Twitter.

Systems where users can transform tasks by adding elements of play and then share their new methods allows creative users to think about how to make a task fun without an external reward. Users working toward the same set of goals can then form communities around those goals. These communities of learners can share experiences and increase their learning around the non-game activity, which is a method more likely to create a truly internalized self-organized learning environment.

About the Author

Jason Anderson Faculty Member, Intelligence Studies at American Public University

Jason’s research interests include information sharing regarding transnational criminal organizations. He completed a Master of Library and Information Science degree from the University of Washington and works as a librarian in the Puget Sound region of Washington State. Additionally, Jason has undergraduate degrees from Brigham Young University in Spanish Literature and Political Science.

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