Learning through play is obviously nothing new, it is one of the main ways children learn. The fun element in play means that children become absorbed in what they are doing, not even realising they are acquiring useful skills. Gamification, however, is not simply about learning through playing, it’s about “the application of game dynamics and game mechanics to make learning goals more appealing and achievable” (Squire, K 2003). Moodle provides an excellent set of tools that can be harnessed to bring an element of gaming into learning, but more on that later.
Introducing elements of gamification may be fun, but does it bring with it positive benefits and improved outcomes for the learner? On the face of it, research would seem to show that gamification does indeed lead to improved student engagement and motivation. For example an experiment involving High School students in America showed that where game elements were used in Moodle, enthusiasm and motivation levels were higher among the group using gamification as opposed to the group not using it 1. There was an even greater (negative) effect on motivational behaviour where gamification was used and then removed. Similarly a review of literature on gamification found that “indeed, gamification does work” 2. While both studies came with caveats (the main one being the relatively small size of the study groups), indications are that more gaming dynamics should be used in Moodle, exploiting both the competitive and collaborative traits most people naturally possess. This in turn can improve student engagement and motivation, both important (but by no means sole) elements in improving overall attainment. Speaking anecdotally, introducing a competitive element in learning does, under certain circumstances, seem to improve student achievement especially among boys.
The issue of educational underachievement among certain social groups was highlighted in a 2016 report by the Guardian Online 3 which published research showing that just 24% of white boys from poorer backgrounds achieved the benchmark of five good GCSEs, the figure for girls was 32%. While other groups, from the same economic background, showed a significant improvement in achieving this benchmark, this was not the case for white working class boys among whom attainment levels remain “stubbornly low”. Thus while all students would seem to benefit from gamification, I have seen it particularly help boys from poorer backgrounds where engagement in the learning process can be more problematic. Poor achievement at GCSE level often impacts on achievement at a higher level, but even at HE level the use of “serious games” can “intrigue learners during the process of learning” 4 . So while gamification should be used for the benefit of all students, perhaps its main benefits will be among those groups who struggle more than others to fully engage with their learning.
Moodle contains a wide range of opportunities for gamification without necessarily needing specific game style technology. A standard Moodle course can be designed in such a way as to incorporate game orientated activities. In a paper presented at the international eLearning conference 5, Somova provided just such an example whereby the different sections of a Moodle course were designed as a games level. Each level requires students to achieve specific learning objectives with points and badges awarded when predetermined criteria were met. Conditional access, based on activity completion, is used to direct students through the various ‘game’ levels with learners receiving points for assessed activities, which in turn are used to award badges. A badge per level is available, earned as activities are completed and a set level of attainment is reached (eg 70% for a quiz). As the learner progresses so the levels are made more demanding and involve different type of activities such as group activities to encourage collaboration.
In ‘Gamification with Moodle’ 6 Denmeade (2015) identifies, among others, the following Moodle activities ideal for gamification:
Forum posts – these can be set up for peer ratings or brain teasers.
Quizzes – either team or individual leaderboards can be used to create a competitive element to the exercise.
Feedback module – can be used to set up an interactive pathway based on answers. If questions are answered incorrectly, students can be directed to further reading.
Assignments – custom grading can be used to quickly set up gaming levels, for example Bronze, Silver and Gold
Lessons – progress through lessons can be gamified by setting up prerequisites, such as time limits etc, with advancement to subsequent lessons being made increasingly difficult (or easy depending on ability, or the final goal of the lesson). Lessons can also be used to create different pathways through an exercise, based on student responses to questions and so allow for differentiation by task.
H5P – H5P contains a variety of tools that contain an element of gamification, though the drawback is that the outcomes of some exercises may not be saved in Moodle.
Beyond Moodle there are a huge variety of online gaming tools that can be used by students. https://sites.google.com/site/technologyenhancedlearning/ contains an index of a wide range of eLearning tools that can be used as stand alone learning ‘games’.
While careful initial planning is needed to ensure the above activities are properly prepared to be both academically robust and contain elements of game dynamics, once created they are reusable, and much of the marking is done by Moodle itself. If, at the end of the day, students are more engaged and more are achieving required learning outcomes then the time spent preparing is time well spent. Gamification is clearly not the only answer to tackling underachievement, or a guarantee of improving student outcomes, but it might provide a useful additional tool in helping engage students in their learning.
1 Amriani, A et al (2013,October) An empirical study of gamification impact on e-Learning environment. Retrieved from
2 Hamari J et al Does Gamification Work? — A Literature Review of Empirical Studies on Gamification 2014, 47th Hawaii International Conference on System Science. Available via https://people.uta.fi/~kljuham/2014-hamari_et_al-does_gamification_work.pdf
3 Weale, S. (2016, November) Schools must focus on struggling white working-class pupils, says UK charity retrieved from
4 Somova, E. and Gachkova, M. An Attempt for Gamification of Learning in Moodle Available via http://www.elearning-conf.eu/docs/cp16/paper-31.pdf
5 Somova, E. and Gachkova, M. An Attempt for Gamification of Learning in Moodle Available via http://www.elearning-conf.eu/docs/cp16/paper-31.pdf
6 Denmeade, N. (2015). Gamification with Moodle. Birmingham: Packt Publishing Ltd