Gamification: what is it, and how can it be utilized in a virtual classroom?

Updated: Mar 29

“Gamification” is a fancy term used by professionals from a plethora of fields, including marketing, health, and education. However, what does this concept actually mean, and what role will it play in the future of education?

Gamification in Education
Gamification in Education

What is gamification?

Gamification is the application of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contexts. For example, different game elements, such as healthy peer competition, acquiring points for a score table, teamwork, and (most importantly) obtaining a reward can all be utilized in non-gaming contexts. In other words, gamification is used to make traditionally “boring” activities more fun!

Although the term “gamification” was coined more recently, the concept is nothing new. One of the earliest examples of this is from 1908 with the establishment of the Boy Scouts of America. To this day, Boy Scouts continue the tradition of rewarding members for their achievements in various areas by giving them a badge as a reward. For those who have watched the movie Mary Poppins, she essentially summarizes the concept of gamification when she says, “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and SNAP! The job’s a game.”

Gamification in Education

The concept of gamification in education is that optimal learning occurs when students are enjoying themselves. Students also learn the best when they have specific goals and benchmarks that they strive for, which is where gamification’s role comes to play. As virtual education is becoming more popular, more opportunities for gamification in education are beginning to rise. The challenge posed to educators is to harness the engaging features of games and incorporate them into education.

Here are three valuable features of virtual classrooms that can create a better implementation of gamification in education:

1. A real-time, in-class points system

A virtual classroom provides each student their own account, making it easier for the teachers to track their students' progress, whether it be through their online test scores, in-class participation, or presentation performance. Unlike traditional learning, a virtual classroom platform can create a live, up-to-date point system among the students during class. In place of an A-F letter grade system, teachers could use this point system to track students’ progress more accurately and efficiently, adding the reward-system element of gamification to motivate students.

For example, in a discussion class based on class readings, teachers would want to encourage class participation and proof from the students that they did their assignments thoroughly. During the discussion, teachers could add points to students’ accounts in real-time, and based on the teacher’s preference, display the class scoreboard for the entire class to see. A student answering without textual evidence could be worth one point, while an answer citing the assigned reading texts could be worth 2 points. As the teacher gives points to students during class, students would be able to quantify their own progress and the progress of their peers during class.

A built-in virtual point system does not necessarily need to be based on academic objectives, and more based on classroom etiquette and respect would be rewarding students’ points based on punctuality. For example, logging in to class on time could merit a point for students, or rather, logging in to class late could merit a loss of points for students.

2. Breakout rooms

In addition to a reward system, teamwork and competition are equally essential elements of gamification. In a traditional classroom, dividing students into groups to compete is a full-proof game-based element that works. For virtual classrooms, this is where breakout rooms come into play. Although the types of competitions conducted in an in-person classroom are not the same as those of a virtual classroom, breakout rooms open a new playing field of possibilities.

Unlike in-classroom group work, the breakout room feature can prove to be much more time-efficient. First off, in terms of competition, breakout rooms are designed that each group will have the same amount of time to collaborate. Under this time standardization, the playing field for the competition will ideally be even. Second off, breaking up into virtual breakout rooms takes the click of a button, while forming different groups in an in-person classroom is a lengthier process, especially if the virtual platform randomly assigns students into breakout groups. Not only this, randomly assigned breakout rooms take away the social pressure faced by certain students to choose a group for themselves.

One example of breakout rooms’ innovation for gamification comes from a remedial online math class from the IE University in Madrid. The teacher had students solve problems collaboratively in breakout rooms. Once reconvened, students played a digital memory game where students matched the problems, they had just solved with their solutions to check their answers. While in breakout rooms, students are incentivized to complete and solve the problems correctly. For one, working together makes the experience more enjoyable. Second, students will want the correct answers to win the competition.

3. Polling

The third and more subtle feature that can use gamification is many virtual classrooms' polling feature. Introducing an immediate audience response system into your classroom is a gateway into various engaging activities for students. Teachers can pose questions based on last night’s homework, in-class readings, or even a non-academic question to understand the students’ general opinions better. Moreover, because students will see their own and each other’s response, they will be more incentivized to participate and answer correctly.

In a traditional classroom, polls are usually conducted through a classroom response system that uses “clickers.” Each student will already have an existing account in a virtual classroom with an already built-in polling system. This means that their immediate response to poll questions would be automatically accounted for without having to set up a more complicated polling system, such as the “clicker” systems used in in-person classrooms. Additionally, suppose a teacher likes to give polls frequently. In that case, it will be much easier for a teacher to keep track of the accumulated students’ poll responses over time and thus, help keep track of overall class participation.

Other than these virtual classroom features, gamification can also take the form of different out of the classroom apps. Through these apps, gamification and microlearning are combined to make a killer-combo in education.

Here are some educational Apps with gamified components:

  • Kahoot: a learning platform with a user-generated multiple-choice trivia game

  • Jeopardy Labs: allows users to create custom made jeopardy templates

  • Duolingo: free language learning app

  • Tinycards: an app that supports and creates study flashcards

  • Blinkist: a book-summarizing subscription service

  • Gimkit: a game show for the classroom that requires knowledge, collaboration, and strategy.


Because a virtual classroom can more efficiently keep track of students’ academic and behavioral progress, it is the ideal platform to incorporate gamification into education. The three aforementioned virtual classroom features and the gamification apps are only a few examples of the potential gamification we can utilize in EdTech. As the demand for remote education increases, virtual classrooms, and other technologies will continue to advance and develop, creating a more enjoyable educational experience for students.

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