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Instructional-Design Theories and Models: Volume IV, The Learner-Centered Paradigm of Education

Edited by Charles M. Reigeluth, Brian J. Beatty & Rodney D. Myers       2017

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Chapter 13

Gamification Designs for Instruction

Karl M. Kapp


Editors’ Foreword


Preconditions (when to use the theory)


  • Focus on problem solving with meaningful choices and gamification elements used to

                engage and motivate learners.


  • All Students.

      Learning environments

  • Appropriate for use both online and in classrooms.

  • Learners should feel they are in a “safe” environment in which they can explore and make mistakes without dire consequences.

      Instructional development constraints

  • Gamification is easier to implement when technology can be used for support (e.g., automatic tracking of attainments and awarding of points).


Values (opinions about what is important)

      About ends (learning goals)

  • Fostering motivation and engagement is highly valued.

      About means (instructional methods)

  • Learning tasks should provide optimal challenge for the learner.

      About priorities (criteria for successful instruction)

  • Appeal and engagement are intended to increase effectiveness; efficiency is less important.

      About power (to make decisions about the previous three)

  • The teacher is primarily in control of ends, priorities, and means by providing course structure and reinforcement schedules. Learner choices are bounded by rules and parameters.


Universal Principles

     1. Engagement.  Create and maintain student engagement. 

     2. Choices.  Encourage students to make meaningful and consequential choices within clearly defined rules and within a safe environment, allowing freedom to fail.

     3. Competence.  Provide visible evidence of progress toward mastery to the student. 

  • Mastery.  Organize instruction into discrete units, each of which must be mastered before moving on to the next unit.

  • Scaffolding.  Sequence units in increasing difficulty and scaffold learners toward mastery using various scaffolding techniques.

  • Goal orientation.  Foster a mastery orientation (rather than a performance orientation) in the learner by rewarding progress with points, badges, placement on a leaderboard, and/or other indicators of attainments.

  • Feedback.  Provide visual and/or aural feedback during instruction.


Situational Principles

     For determining structural or content gamification 

  • Use content gamification when the content lends itself to the addition of a mystery or the inclusion of a story.

  • Use content gamification when it is beneficial to immerse the students in the content and have them assume a role and interact with the content while learning.

  • Use structural gamification when the content is part of a larger curriculum and it is otherwise difficult for students to remain motivated over time.

  • Use both kinds of gamification when both situations prevail.

     For creating and maintaining student engagement 

          Principles for providing challenge

  • To initially engage students, provide challenge through uncertain outcomes due to the user’s actions, multiple goals, hidden information, and randomness, but make sure the challenge is not so great that it overwhelms the student.

  • When using structural gamification, adjust the goals, challenges, and reward structure to be difficult but achievable, and relate each challenge to learning complex ideas, concepts, and skills that lead to mastery.

  • When using content gamification, use a progression of increasingly complex whole tasks, and provide assistance only when an obstacle proves too difficult for students to overcome on their own.

          Principles for using story/narrative

  • Use story/narrative when presenting content in a chronological or preferred sequence is beneficial.

  • Use story/narrative when engaging students in the affective domain is important.

  • Use story/narrative when it is important to demonstrate when specific content should be applied.

          Principles for using characters/avatars

  • Use avatars when it is important to foster student identification with a situation or particular person.

  • Use characters when it is important to engage students more deeply in the learning experience.

          Principles for using mystery

  • Use mystery in content gamification when it is important to engage students’ curiosity.

  • Mystery can be created by evoking sensory curiosity or cognitive curiosity, such as by withholding information, providing novel and exciting situations, and providing surprising and constructive feedback.

          Principles for using competition

  • When students are initially intimidated by the amount of content, have a good social relationship with each other, or are hesitant to engage with the content, use competition by

    • Rewarding performance and displaying results on a leaderboard (i.e., as part of structural gamification).

    • Awarding prizes that are of little importance or are symbolic to foster intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivation.

    • Keeping the number of students competing directly with each other to a minimum, such as by dividing classes into smaller competitive teams.

    • Making the competition last long enough to enable students to overcome bad initial results (i.e., as part of structural gamification).

    • Basing the goal on the process (learning and improving) rather than on the results (winning or losing).

          Principles for using cooperation

  • When students are able to learn content from peers, when the content is enriched through discussion, or when working together to achieve a common goal is desirable, use cooperation by requiring the students to work together to overcome a challenge or solve a mystery.

          Principles for using spaced retrieval

  • Use spaced retrieval to engage students with content over an extended period of time (i.e., as part of structural gamification).

  • Use spaced retrieval to provide reinforcement and to foster retention of information.

          Principles for using retrieval practice

  • When students must memorize and recall information, use retrieval practice in the form of quiz show questions and reward performance.

     For encouraging students to make meaningful and consequential choices with clearly defined rules and within a safe


  • When the amount or complexity of the content may be overwhelming, give the student minimal control over content sequencing, pacing, and access to support.

  • When the student has sufficient prior knowledge and metacognitive skills and when the content is of low complexity, give her or him greater control.

  • Unless personal mastery and individual learning are required, foster socialization by creating connectedness among students in a group.

  • When using content gamification, have students assume roles and participate in activities that allow them to observe and imitate realistic actions.

  • When using structural gamification, help students to share their accomplishments with others.

     For providing visible evidence of progress toward mastery

  • When using structural gamification and the activity is of little interest to the student, award points for level of effort, timeliness, correctness, or accuracy of student responses.

  • When content has a clear progression in complexity and the activity is of little interest to the student, sequence units of instruction so that students progress through increasingly difficult levels and receive visual recognition for attaining each level.

  • When the activity is of little interest to the student, provide recognition in the form of badges, trophies, or other visible signs of achievement for both measurement achievements and completion achievements.


Implementation Issues

  • It can be difficult for teachers to know which game elements are appropriate for a particular context. 

                                                                                                                                                                                       –  C.M.R., B.J.B & R.D.M.

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