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6 Reasons for the failure of Gamification in Education

Gamification is the brand new buzzword that some of us are excited to apply for education purposes, for our trainings, or even in our elearning solutions. However, don’t you have the feelin that when it comes to the real implementation it’s not working as expected or as designed? In my opinion, there are 6 reasons for the failure of Gamification in education.

1.    Gamification understood as a Game-Based Learning

In the education field I often see Gamification and Game-Based Learning approach used as synonyms. Nothing could be more untrue. In this context Gamification it isn’t Game-Based Learning.

To sum up, Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in contexts that aren’t a game itself. The idea behind is use them for engaging users or for solving specific problems.

In my opinion, the problem of this misunderstanding is due to the definition itself which it can be tricky. However, it’s easy to understand when one is engaged to a specific game.

Are you one of those million of people addicted to Candy Crush Saga? Have you been one of those who cannot stop playing with Tetris? Maybe you are a Super Mario player? If so, would you be able to identify which game elements keeps you thinking in opening the game every day? Think about the elements that engages you the most, think about those mechanisms that keeps you playing during your free time instead of doing something else.

These elements or systems are those that we claim as game mechanics,  we bring them up, out of its regular contexts, in our case, in education and we use it to engage students, to achieve our education outcomes.

Recently I made myself a new definition about Gamification. This definition was used by Isidro Rodrigo (@isidrorodrigo) and expert about applying gamification in the Human Resources sector. During a Hangout he defined Gamification as follows:

#Gamification applied in companies  = method to solve problems in companies  –> Great definition #eventosiebs

— Rosalie Ledda (@rledda82) febrero 5, 2014

In my opinion this is the best definition to start understanding this concept.

The implementation of a well designed Gamification for education purposes provides advantages such as:

  • Can make the training more attractive and sometimes to turn a tough training into a more digestible one.
  • Can contribute to motivate the learner and maintain or even increase his/her participation during the course.
  • Can foster participation among learners.
  • Can contribute to reduce the number of drop offs.
  • Can bring the training into a personal challenge, therefore, can contribute in the intrinsic motivation of the learners.

2.    Because there are no reasons to gamify

Gamification can be a possible solution to solve a problem or to cover a need. But before choosing a gamification solution there has to be an analysis stage that confirms that the application of a gamification system is the right solution. To be more specific I would consider:

  • Analyse the real need.
  • Target/learners.
  • Goals of the institución/organisation.
  • What the learners do not know, what do you want them to do at the end of the course and why your gamification solution will ease the change.
  • Etc.

Gamification is the new fashion but it doesn’t mean it has to fit in every situation.

3.    It’s not linked to the learning process

In my opinion, the learning process should be a positive experience, or a kind of journey where the learner is viewed as a novice player at the beginning of the course and becomes a master at the end of his/her learning process.

The gamification system you design should be part of that journey, therefore, gamification has to belong to the learning system itself. Think about when you consider to create a forum at a specific point of a course. You create it because you see its pedagogical use at that  point. But, what about when including game elements in the learning system? Think about if that specific element is really significant to the learning process.

Think about if you can justify this component at that point of the learning journey, pedagogically speaking. If you cannot provide reasons to it, maybe you’re  forcing something that it won’t work. Maybe it doesn’t make any sense at all.

4.    Many points lack of stories

For some professionals, gamification is equal to give points, award with badges and create leaderbords. In my opinion, give them willy-nilly simply it doesn’t work if they aren’t connected with something meaningful for the learner.

Instead, I propose to find what the meaning is for the learner. Think about the meaning of getting points, or being awarded with badges or even the meaning of being at the top of athe leaderboard. Have you think why is that important for the learner? Why don’t you start explaining a story and link these points, these badges to a challenges that the user has to achieve in order to discover the end of the story?

Points and badges must be the rewards for a specific effort. If we give badges with no sense, without thinking why it can be important for the learners, if those badges/points do not required any effort at all, if they don’t see some benefits of achieving them or simply they are pretty easy, the learner will be no longer interested. Which means a completely fail in your gamified system.

Instead, let’s create a story behind that implies learning challenges in order to outrip milestones, during the learning process, let’s award to those who obtain the best results. As it happens in real life, why we don’t create a a kind of reward for those who graduates with honors? Why don’t you give some privileges to those who help their peers? Think about rewarding that student that keeps trying something over and over again until he/she manages to obtain a positive result.

Use analogies to create a story behind, where the learning process occurs, design key moments and put the badges to motivate or challenge the learner to pass to the new level (module).

5.    No explanation about how to play

Have you ever played a role play? Are you a Catan player? Citadels maybe? All of them are provided with a detailed instructions about how to play. Do you explain to your learners how to play? We cannot assume that our players will know how to play. As it happens in a course you explain the purpose of the course, the objectives, how to pass the course, etc.

If you gamify remeber that you have to explain what and how. Explain them how to win the game (pass the course), how they will loose, how they can achieve powers (privileges or more points at the end of the course). To sum up, you have to provide them all the information to play normally.

6.    Gamifying for the wrong player

A game it doesn’t appeal for every gamer just for being a game. Some specific games are focused on some type of player, sometimes for more than one, but at least one.

If you want to apply gamification for education purposes you have to consider who your players are (learners). You have to be able to visualize what type of gamer will be playing (doing the course). As it happens in a regular course you design the activities according to the knowledge they have about that topic and according to the learning outcomes (Are they novice in that topic? Do they need more practice?).

Having in mind this information, you have to design your gamify system according to the type of players of your game (course). If you gamify the system thinking of a type of gamer and finally you’ll have the opposite one, your gamify solution will fail.

If you are not familiar with the different types of players I recommend you to follow the following experts and read what they say about this topic:


The failure of a Gamification in education can be due to these reasons or for others. Having observed the implementation of others, having experienced my ow, I think these are the most repeated reasons for a failure of a Gamification solution for education purposes.

Any other “Don’ts” to avoid? Just comment please! 

Gamification In Education

Rosalie Ledda

I’m an experienced pedagogue in designing and implementing learning programmes whether online, blended or in-person led training. I'm currently pursuing a Masters Degree in Human Resources Management (nominee in Excellence Awards 2015 prize). I have 10 years of experience in the consultancy field responsible for managing both corporate and educational projects including national and European projects. I consider myself an objective-driven oriented professional, analytical skilled to identify needs and strategies based on the context and used to work autonomously but able to work in groups when necessary.

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