Motivation and Learning Through Gamification

From game nights to mobile apps to the newest video games, it’s clear that gaming is a lot of fun. It keeps us entertained, engaged, and motivated. This holds true even when gaming elements are used in other environments like school or work. Let’s take a look at how gamification works, why it’s an effective method for learning, and how teachers can implement game-based learning in their classrooms today.

What Is Gamification?

Gamification is the process of applying game design elements, mechanics, and techniques to non-game contexts to engage and motivate people to achieve their goals. It has become increasingly popular in recent years, with businesses, organizations, and educators using it to encourage participation, learning, and behavior change. Gamification examples include:

  • Language learning apps that use streaks to keep learners motivated
  • Earning points and rewards through store loyalty programs
  • Leaderboards on Peloton exercise bikes
  • Apps or software that turn to-do lists into fun quests (goals), in the style of role-playing games (RPGs)

The Psychology of Gamification

The psychology behind gamification is rooted in principles of human motivation and behavior. Games are designed to be intrinsically motivating, providing players with a sense of challenge, achievement, and autonomy. By incorporating these elements into non-game contexts, gamification leverages the natural human desire for achievement and progress.

Gamification also utilizes extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation is the type of motivation that arises from external rewards, such as points, badges, and prizes. These rewards provide immediate feedback to users, encouraging them to continue engaging with the activity or behavior.

Another relevant psychological concept is the principle of operant conditioning, which states that behaviors can be shaped and reinforced through rewards and punishments. By using rewards and recognition to reinforce desired behaviors, gamification can help individuals develop new habits and skills over time.

Finally, gamification taps into the human need for social interaction and competition. By incorporating social elements such as leaderboards, rankings, and collaboration, gamification can create a sense of community and friendly competition that motivates users to participate and improve.

All of these qualities make gamification great for motivation. We can see this in the realm of education, too, where gamifying education results in improved student motivation and learning. Here’s how gamification is used in education, and how it can help students learn skills and concepts in a fun and effective way.

Gamification in Education

Gamified learning refers to the use of game design elements in the classroom to engage and motivate students. Also known as game-based learning (GBL), it can be a powerful tool to enhance student engagement and achievement. A study in Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences found that “the learning achievements of students with game-based learning are better than those who use the traditional face-to-face teaching.” This effectiveness stems from the unique style of gamified learning and the many benefits it provides.

Benefits of Game-Based Learning

There are many ways in which gamified learning can benefit students. First, gamification can increase student motivation and engagement by making learning more fun and rewarding. Students are more likely to be invested in their learning when they are actively engaged and feel a sense of accomplishment from their progress.

Second, gamification can provide immediate feedback to students, identifying areas of potential improvement and reinforcing their successes. This feedback can be especially valuable in subjects like math, where students need to practice and refine their skills over time.

GBL can also help personalize learning by allowing students to work at their own pace and level. Games can be designed to adapt to individual student needs, providing a more tailored learning experience that meets students where they are.

Finally, gamified learning can promote collaboration and teamwork among students. Many games are designed to be played in groups, and working together to solve problems and achieve goals can help students develop important social and interpersonal skills.

How To Gamify Learning

With all these benefits, and with students genuinely enjoying GBL, it’s no surprise that gamification is being used more and more in classrooms. One way this is commonly accomplished is through the use of educational games and simulations. These games are designed to teach students specific content or skills through interactive, immersive experiences. For example, a game that teaches math concepts through puzzles and challenges can make learning more engaging and motivating for students.

Teachers can also employ gamification in simpler ways, by adding game elements to regular classroom activities. For instance, a teacher might incorporate a points system or leaderboard into a lesson to incentivize participation and encourage healthy competition among students.

Game-Based Learning With THINKING PRO

Our THINKING PRO system is another fantastic example of gamified learning, and a great way to introduce GBL into students’ academic lives! Our gamified videos focus on the development of cognitive skills. These interactive learning videos use game elements to make lessons more engaging and rewarding for students. For example, learners receive immediate feedback on their performance and are rewarded with a feedback icon at the end of each video. Our icons display students’ proficiency level (Not Yet Proficient, Proficient, or Above Proficient).

Students are often encouraged to repeat the videos to reach the Above Proficient level, denoted by an icon of a green person with a gold crown. Teachers can encourage this by incorporating their own reward elements, such as giving fist-bumps to students who receive the crown.

Gamification like this has the potential to revolutionize education by making learning more engaging, motivating, and effective. By tapping into the natural human desire for achievement and progress, GBL can help students achieve their full potential and develop critical skills that will serve them well into the future.

Here at Thinking Habitats, we use thinking tools to empower young people to lead successful lives and contribute to the wellbeing of their communities. Our online platform has helped students improve their critical thinking, reading comprehension, and news media literacy, and has had significant individual and community impacts. Try THINKING PRO today, and join our students who feel more empowered in decision-making, more mindful with their news engagement, and more connected to their local community!


5 Benefits of Gamification. Smithsonian Science Education Center. (2014, January 8). 

Cheng, C.-H., & Su, C.-H. (2012). A game-based learning system for improving student’s learning effectiveness in system analysis course. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 31, 669–675. 

Cherry, K. (2023, February 24). What is operant conditioning?. Verywell Mind. 

Koss, H. (2022, June 14). Gamification: What it is and how it works (with 8 examples). Built In. 

Wu, M. (2017, April 21). Gamification 101: The Psychology of Motivation. LinkedIn.