The Gamification of Education



Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Marc Ashbrook on how gaming is playing a new role in education and learning. 

It’s the gamification of education.

What if you could play your way through school?  What if learning could be more like a game?

There is a ton of innovation and change in the education space.  Marc has seen some amazing things first-hand, and he’s also been exposed to a variety of ways in which the future of education is evolving

Marc Applies Gamification for a Living

Marc specializes in social collaboration, gamification, and productivity using solutions to help people accelerate value through new ways of working.  Currently, Marc is focused on helping organizations innovate their businesses and increase employee productivity through the use of social collaboration and gamification elements and designs. 

Marc also spends time researching and collaborating with others to determine what the future may hold in regards to the way information work is performed and people collaborate with each other. Sometimes these ideas are as simple as applying game techniques to a business process to change behaviors, and other times it’s as complex as envisioning immersive virtual environments.   He has participated in a world wide effort to study what work will be like in 2025, and he has helped to organize innovation summits with customers and various groups with the sole purpose of changing how work is done.

Here’s Marc on the gamification of education and new adventures in the learning experience.

Gamification is Changing Education

Lately I’ve been exploring the world of gamification and how it is being used to change behaviors in the workplace.

In my research I’ve also come across many examples of how gamification is also being used in education. Maybe it’s because I have children in primary school, but I have a passion for improving our educational systems and giving our children every chance possible to live in a changing world.

I have a daughter that is 14 and is currently taking a 8th grade math class; pre-algebra. During parent teacher conferences her teacher and I started talking about the need for educational change. Our school system is currently teaching our kids to survive in a world that soon will no longer exist. The workforce is shifting and requiring employees to be more creative and innovative.

Our current education system was created to address the needs of the industrial revolution where you just needed to know "how" to do something. However, we’re currently experiencing an Information Revolution which is changing the skills required of our workforce. Instead of knowing just the "how", we’re now required to think creatively, work in distributed virtual teams, be self-motivated, and to basically make sense of the wealth of information we now have at our finger tips.

Yet, the educational system across the globe is still preparing our youth as if the industrial revolution was alive and growing.

The Flipped Classroom

However, there are pockets of change happening in classrooms (both virtual and physical) throughout the world. One of these pockets I found in my daughter’s 8th grade math class. Her teacher is going to try an experiment this semester, known as a "Flipped Classroom".

In this model, the teacher records the lectures and makes them available to the students through the Internet. For "homework" the students watch the videos, then come to class to do their "traditional homework". In class they receive assistance from the teacher, any aids, and other students.

Basically you attend class at home and do your homework in class.

I think this is a great model. We’ve been having study groups for years, but who ever thought of inviting the teacher or professor to these groups? These Flipped Classrooms are being used in Universities and primary school classrooms across the globe. The University of Northern Colorado has even created a site dedicated to helping educators adopt this new model. You can find their site here, at The Flipped Classroom.

The Flipped Grading System

I’ve found other examples of rethinking education as well. For example, why do we demotivate our students by starting them out with an A each semester and as they get points taken off for each assignment, quiz and test, they end up with their final grade at the end of the semester. I’ve heard about examples where some schools have flipped the grading system and everyone starts off with an F at the beginning of the semester and works their way up to their final grade.

Not really much of a change physically, but motivationally this is a big difference. It basically models the flow of points in a video game. In a video game, you don’t start with the high score and work down from there. That wouldn’t be much fun, or very motivating. Instead, video games start you out at zero and you work your way up from there. If the game is designed correctly and provides you enough of a challenge, it’s a lot of fun to play and you’re motivated to continue playing. I see the same advantages and intrinsic reward system being used with these flipped grading systems.

The Learning Path is a Game

In addition to just flipping the classroom or the grading system, there are many instances where the actual leaning path is resembling more of a game. Take the School of One for example, the curriculum itself has been turned into a game. As the students work through their assignments and quizzes, additional levels are unlocked for them. They’re allowed to spend as much time as they need on a specific subject and once they’ve mastered it, they move on to the next.

Sounds a bit like the design of a video game. I think the key here is that the students work at their own pace and they’re allowed to fail. For example, once I think I’ve mastered the material, I can attempt the quiz. If I don’t pass the quiz, I just go back and review more of the content and work through more of the exercises, then try again. I don’t get points taken off for failing a quiz; instead I receive points for passing a quiz and moving on to the next level. Much more motivating and a great way to deal with the many children diagnosed with "Test Anxiety".

The Blending of Classes

Another example of where education is being rethought is in the blending of classes. For example blending History with English. In this classroom format both subjects are taught by a team of teachers at the same time. While a project may be focused on history, the students also receive a grade for the English portion of it.

In other words the students not only learn about history, but they are also being taught English at the same time.

While I’m mostly seeing this done with the humanity subjects, it’s only a matter of time until someone tries blending in both math and science with the humanities and social studies subjects. What a great way to get students to think creatively and apply the full spectrum of learning.

The examples I’ve provided above are only few and barely scratch the surface of what’s currently being experimented with. However there is hope, and changes are underway. I just hope they arrive in time to prepare our children for a vastly different world they’ll soon be stepping into.

Image by Waag Society.


  1. This is an excellent and thought provoking article.

    I can also envision the immensely customized curricula possible as more and more intelligent content delivery networks and cloud media platforms can tailor each lecture into even more personalized streams… e.g. inserting the individual student’s name in the audio as they hear the teacher speak, or tweaking an example blackboard graphic to an example that is closer to the student’s aspirations or favorite colors, etc.


    Imran Anwar

  2. […] on ©Nanyang Technological University Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching […]

  3. Just watched a TED Talk titled Build a School in the Cloud. In it Sugata Mitra provides a great overview on why our educational model was built the way it was and that it’s now outdated and needs to be changed. One of things I took away from this talk was how the role of the educator is changing. I really like how he’s incorporating “grannies” to encourage the children and ask the questions to be solved. To me this really plays into the Flipped Classroom example, where the teacher is working along side the students while they complete their “homework” in class.

  4. I’m so torn about issues like this. On one hand, I recognize that outdated modes of education, used just because “we’ve always done it this way,” hinder rather than aid education. On the other hand, it seems to me that we are raising generations of kids who can navigate cyberspace, but who don’t know where Jordan or Japan is. I’ve taught hundreds of law students who were at the top of their class in undergraduate school, but they couldn’t put together a sentence correctly.

    So how do you bring education into the future and still produce people who are “educated”? Let me be clear that I’m not attaching any inherent superiority to those who are well educated. Goodness knows there are plenty of folks out there with little formal education who can run circles around Ivy League grads. My point is that if we invest so much of our time and resources into educating our kids and young adults, shouldn’t there be some baseline of knowledge and language skills? I don’t really know the answer to that question, but it comes to mind whenever I read something about innovative education. Thanks for hearing me out!

  5. @ Galen — I know what you mean. The fun factor is great, but not at the expense of cornerstone competence and capability.

    I think the key is using gaming to help light the paths through a baseline set of knowledge and skills in a more engaging way.

    I think two key things to nail are:
    1. Bridge the gap between real-world relevance and class-room experience
    2. Use what we’ve learned from gaming, positive pyschology, behavioral sciences, and performance management to accelerate the learning paths

    The great debate of course is — what is the effective baseline set of knowledge and skills? I do know that all I needed to know, I did not learn in kindergarten, or in formal education, but it was a great start 😉

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