Blog Post

5 Steps to Get Started with Gamification in Education

Shannon Howard
April 26, 2023
Illustration of white puzzle pieces fitting together on a sea foam background

Have you been looking for ways to increase engagement with your learning content?

While there are great mechanisms for reminding and encouraging learners to continue learning, there’s another solution that can instill intrinsic motivation to learn: gamification.

If you’re ready to dig in and get started with gamified learning experiences, check out five tips from Dr. Julia Huprich, former VP of Learning Science at Intellum (shared in a previous episode of our Underscore webinar series). 

Ready to introduce gamification into your learning? Here are five steps to get started.

Step 1: Establish goals for your gamification plan

One of the biggest mistakes people make when gamifying learning is simply adding game elements. But what we really want to do is start with the end in mind: What trackable, measurable behavior do you want to impact?

With your goal in mind, you can find ways to encourage and reward actions that lead toward that behavior change. 

For example, maybe you’re trying to improve meeting efficiency, and you’re trying to instill a set of behaviors to accomplish that goal. In this example, awarding badges to learners who complete a course on hosting more efficient meetings is not going to have much of an impact. 

Instead, rewards need to tie to organizational and learning goals

So rather than award badges, you might recognize and reward employees who take recommended actions: preparing an agenda, taking and sharing notes, starting and ending on time, etc. 

Step 2: Identify desired learner behaviors

Once you know what your intended goal is, it’s time to identify which behaviors are most likely to lead to that desired outcome.

One way to figure this out is by analyzing your most successful and least successful learners (whether customers, partners, or employees). What are they doing differently? Which behaviors are most likely, or least likely, to lead to success? 

For example, language learning app Duolingo realized that if someone logged in everyday and did one thing, that was a successful user. So instead of focusing on badges or completion, they focused on gamifying login through login streaks.

Step 3: Profile users

When building out your education initiatives, you likely put together learner personas. These personas might have focused on the learner’s background, context, skills, attitudes, etc.

But what about motivation? To drive engagement, we must understand what inspires and motivates our learners to learn.

A group of researchers established six archetypes representing learner motivation:

  1. Philanthropists like to help others and share their knowledge.
  2. Achievers are motivated by purpose, which could look like learning paths or sharing knowledge with others.
  3. Socializers are motivated socially, which could look like chat rooms and discussions.
  4. Players are extrinsically motivated and benefit from points, badges, and rewards.
  5. Free spirits like to explore the platform and find Easter eggs.
  6. Disruptors like change and pushing boundaries. They prefer  to remain anonymous.
Why is it important to understand motivation? Because motivation works both ways: If you don't know the player type of your audience, you can demotivate them. For example, Socializers wouldn't be motivated by an individual leaderboard, but a leaderboard based on groups. They want to be recognized as contributing to the team, not as an individual.

Step 4: Select effective game elements

There are a number of different game elements you can bring into play (see what I did there?) to increase engagement.


People need to know what the goals are, the order of the goals, what it takes to achieve those goals, and why those goals are important.

To put it in a game context, consider the game of billiards. The goal is to get your balls (striped or solid) in the pocket, then knock the 8-ball into the pocket. Hit the 8-ball in too early, and you lose.

In a learning context, let’s say you want people to participate in a discussion forum. What benefit do they get for participating in the forum? At what point should they post and engage in the forum?


Rules are required for effective gamification. The rules should tie back to rewards.

Think in terms of “if, then.” If a learner does X, they get Y. In billiards, if you get one of your balls (striped or solid) in the pocket, then you get another shot. If you fail to “pot” your ball, then the opposing player gets a turn. In a learning environment, you might have a scenario where if the learner completes all the interactive elements within an eLearning module, then the next module unlocks.

Reward structures

Incentives should be tied to learning objectives. After all, you want people to learn, not game the system for a reward.

Rewards can look like points, badges, or trophies. Some companies tie points to physical rewards, such as company swag or a gift card. Whatever you choose, rewards should be tailored to what you know about your learners—consider it another data point to gather in your learner persona development!

While surprising and delighting your learner with something they didn’t expect can be nice, rewards for learning should be explicit. Hidden rewards are proven to be less effective, so communicate upfront what's at stake and what it takes to earn it.


Feedback is a game element used to help people understand what they need to do to earn a reward. Feedback can also be used to discourage certain behaviors.

Escape rooms use this kind of discouraging feedback by penalizing teams that take hints. In a learning context, this might look like a red X indicating that the learner chose a wrong answer during an assessment. You might then offer corrective feedback that lets them know where they can go back and review materials to get the correct answer next time.


Levels can be used to indicate progression or status. You see this used in some learning environments as a leaderboard. You also see this in advancing credentials, like Salesforce Trailhead offers.


Time can be used as a motivator—whether that’s a countdown or a limited-time-only scenario. For example, in many digital games, there might be time-bound assignments: “Log in daily for 10 XP.” 

HubSpot Academy uses time-bound gamification when they offer World Certification Week. For one week, HubSpot Academy donates $5 to charity for every certification awarded.

In learning, countdowns might take the form of time-based assessments, where you have a limited amount of time to complete the assessment.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of game elements, but a few ideas that you can quickly and easily apply to get started.

Step 5: Launch your gamification learning experience

Once you’ve identified your goals, intended audience, and the game elements you want to incorporate, consider testing your gamified learning experience with a pilot group. To start, you might focus on one user persona and one desired behavior change.

This will help you get both qualitative and quantitative feedback on how it’s working:

  • Is the measurable behavior you’re trying to change changing? 
  • Are your pilot testers engaged and enjoying the experience? 

Use the insights to refine your gamification strategy before launching to a broader audience—then choose the next gamified element to introduce. 

Get started with gamification

The best way to get a quick win is to focus on what will really move the needle. As Dr. Julia shared, “It’s not about doing something, it’s about doing the right thing.

About the Author

Shannon Howard Speaker Headshot
Shannon Howard
Director of Content & Customer Marketing
Shannon Howard is an experienced Customer Marketer who’s had the unique experience of building an LMS, implementing and managing learning management platforms, creating curriculum and education strategy, and marketing customer education. She loves to share Customer Education best practices from this blended perspective.