Exploring Gamification and Game-Based Learning Part 1

Exploring Gamification and Game-Based Learning Part 1

Written by Lexi Schlosser, Faculty Developer of Online Learning, and Kellie Ferguson, Instructional Designer   

When you think of an Administrative Law course, the first thing that comes to mind is probably not Jurassic Park. However, for DU’s own Dr. Roberto Corrada, Jurassic Park provided a narrative framework he used to successfully support the learning outcomes for a simulation he created in his Administrative Law course. Dr. Corrada’s approach to gamification supports engagement, collaborative learning, application of skills, critical thinking, and metacognition, among many other valuable teaching and learning practices. Like Dr. Corrada, you may be wondering how you can infuse fun, engaging, game-like elements into your own courses. Throughout this blog series we will set the foundation for what gamification and game-based learning is and explore ways to get started and advance your practice. 

What exactly is "gamification?"

Gamification has been defined as the use of game elements in non-game learning contexts (Deterding, et al., 2011).  How does this differ from “game-based learning?” While both strategies revolve around the integration of games in learning experiences, they are instructionally different. Game-based learning involves a type of active learning experience within a game-like framework to reach a specific learning outcome. Gamification focuses on the process of adding game elements to a learning experience. As Muntean (2011) notes: “gamification does not mean creating a game.  It means making education more fun and engaging, without undermining its credibility” (p. 328). Using gamification does not mean that you should make a game out of everything in your course—rather, it could be about adopting elements of games to support your delivery of content and course activities. If you design your course around an entire simulation, infuse a game-like narrative, or simply offer individual knowledge checks throughout your course you may be using gamified learning.  

Using game elements in a course is a great tool for helping learners strengthen their ability to use logic, memory, visualization, problem solving, and critical thinking. This video explores the ways games can support students in learning and practicing some of these skills:

Both gamification and game-based learning have positive impacts on student learning in higher education, with recent research showing how these strategies support deeper learning experiences, students’ academic achievement, and an intrinsic motivation to learn (Murillo-Zamorano, et al., 2021; Ebner and Holzinger, 2007; Ding, Guan, & Yu, 2017). One student anonymously shared in Dr. Corrada’s course evaluations that, “the [Jurassic Park] simulation is perhaps one of the coolest learning experiences I have had to date; it is extremely thought provoking, builds on the lawyerly skill of research, synthesis, drafting, and communication, and bolsters core competencies typically gleaned from outside the classroom (collaboration, time management, accountability, compromise, empathy, etc.).”  

So, what might it look like to put gamification into teaching practice?

Gamification is centered on engaging students and holding them accountable for their own learning. As Flower Darby (2019) puts it in Small Teaching Online, “we know that the content we have created will benefit [student] learning, so we have to think deliberately about how to spur their engagement with course materials” (p. 57). In a higher education course, using gamification could be as simple as infusing an educational technology tool like Kahoot for fun formative assessment opportunities, or as complex as creating a whole story that you structure your course design around, like Dr. Corrada did with the Jurassic Park simulation in his Administrative Law course. 

As you begin to explore gamification as a part of your pedagogy, it is important to consider what the primary elements are. These elements can include game mechanics, experience design, and learner goals (Burke, 2014) and how these elements can support, rather than distract from, overall course learning objectives. The University of Chicago’s Instructional Design Services shared a simple comparison of gaming elements to elements of learning (Wang, 2021). Considering that you are already likely using pedagogically effective teaching methods, think about game elements you might add to your own course to supplement the learning experiences of your students.  

Clearly, using gamified elements in your course can help students to engage with materials more deeply. However, gamified elements in a course need to be intentionally placed and designed to align with course learning outcomes. As you think about places where you can gamify your course, consider the following questions: 

  • What is the pacing of your course? With gamified courses, there can be a risk of moving too fast through content which may not be what an academic environment is designed to support. Think about where you would naturally place knowledge checks, and where you are bringing in gamified elements. Are you moving too quickly through materials or are you allowing students the time to process and understand content before engaging with, for instance, a fun knowledge check game? 
  • Are you using gamified elements intentionally and with purpose? If not used with care, gamification can become a distraction, especially if elements are overused, used incorrectly, or if too much emphasis is placed on the competitive aspect of the game over the course learning outcomes. Just as you wouldn’t incorporate an activity or assessment before aligning it with your course learning outcomes, make sure you are only using gamified elements if they serve a purpose in supporting those outcomes. 
  • Are you clarifying your expectations for using gamified elements? Setting up clear guidelines and expectations around how students should navigate through your course and engage with different elements is key to successfully implementing this design strategy. 

Experience some examples!

Our new OTL short-course model integrates gamification elements such as this to help increase engagement and bring purpose to the learners’ experience. We explore new narratives for each course, like a treasure hunt for our online course design short course and invite learners to share their game avatars to take them along their journey. Consider applying for the Teaching and Learning Online Foundational Badge Pilot Program to fully experience gamification as a learner. 

Not every course should be designed around an entire simulation, like Jurassic Park. But what if you imagine the possibility of infusing game elements in your own course today? Keep an eye out for Part 2 of our Gamification Blog series to learn some easy, low-tech ways to start bringing game elements into your own course!  Reach out to an Instructional Designer or Faculty Developer in the OTL to consider how this form of play might work in your own course.  


Burke, B. (2014). Gamify.  Brookline, MA: Bibliomotion  

Darby, F. & Lang, J. (2019). Small Teaching Online. Jossey-Bass. 

Deterding S., Dixon D., Khaled R., & Nacke L. (2011). From game design elements to gamefulness: Defining “gamification”. Proceedings of the 15th International Academic MindTrek Conference. ACM Press, New York, USA, 9–15 

Ding, D., Guan, C., Yu, Y. (2017). Game-based learning in tertiary education: A new learning experience for the generation z. International Journal of Information and Education Technology, 7(2) 

Muntean, C. (2011). Raising engagement in e-learning through gamification. In proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Virtual Learning, Cluj-Napoca, Romania, October 29, 2011. 

Murillo-Zamorano, L.R., López Sánchez, J.Á., Godoy-Caballero, A.L. et al. Gamification and active learning in higher education: is it possible to match digital society, academia and students’ interests?. Int J Educ Technol High Educ 18, 15 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s41239-021-00249-y 

Wang, Z. (2021). Introduction to the use of gamification in higher education: Part 1. Retrieved from https://academictech.uchicago.edu/2021/11/23/introduction-to-the-use-of-gamification-in-higher-education-part-1/