Gamify Courses with Tools Built Into Your LMS to Enhance Self-Determined and Active Online Learning

Concurrent Session 8
Streamed Session

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

We will demonstrate applications of gamification that promote active/self-determined learning. Participants will learn simple strategies to create gamified learning activities using common LMS and freely available tools, discuss the challenges (and solutions) of gamification, and brainstorm strategies to create effective game-based online and blended learning activities for students. 


Cheng-Chia (Brian) Chen, PhD, is an assistant professor of public health in the Department of Public Health at University of Illinois at Springfield. He obtained a PhD in Health Behavior from the Department of Applied Health Science at Indiana University School of Public Health–Bloomington. Chen’s research is broadly focused on health promotion, health policy analyses and online teaching technology. His recent research projects include investigating and developing a better understanding of social determinants of obesity and related health conditions to enhance strategies for intervention, prevention, and health policy making from multidimensional approaches. He teaches biostatistics for MPH students (for both online and on campus sections). He was selected as a Faculty Research Fellow for the Center for Online Learning, Research and Service (COLRS) at the University of Illinois Springfield.

Additional Authors

Dr. Vickie Cook is the Executive Director of the Center for Online Learning, Research and Service (COLRS) and Associate Research Professor in the College of Education at the University of Illinois Springfield. Dr. Cook has been actively engaged providing consulting and faculty development with educational leaders across the U.S. and in Mexico. Her work has been published in a variety of national educational publications and serves as a reviewer for top journals in the field of online learning. She worked as part of a team that authored the UPCEA (University Professional & Continuing Education Association) Hallmarks of Excellence in Online Leadership. She teaches online in the Masters of Arts in Education graduate degree program at University of Illinois Springfield. Her current research agenda focuses on two areas: 1) Exploring learning and professional development through a heutagogical lens; 2) The impact of a systems approach for online leadership. Dr. Cook has served on several regional and national committees, as well as having been a long time member of Illinois Council on Continuing Higher Education (ICCHE) serving in multiple roles on the Executive Board; serves on the Board for the University Professionals & Continuing Education Association (UPCEA); has served as a mentor for the Association for Continuing and Higher Education (ACHE); is a member of the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) and has served on program steering committees for the UPCEA Annual Conference and OLC Annual Conference. Dr. Cook curates top articles in online learning, online leadership, and pedagogy that she shares on LinkedIn and Twitter daily.

Extended Abstract

Learning Objectives

  • Use simple steps to create contents for gamified activities for online and blended learning environments
  • Justify challenges and formulate solutions for the applications of online gamification in higher education settings
  • Connect online gamification experimental results/conclusions to real-world practices


The concept of gamified learning extends educators application of traditional teaching strategies. According to the literature, “gamified” active learning can increase student engagement, create enthusiasm, provide instant feedback, and make more social connections than standard course settings. However, the costs to use an educational game design with efficient delivery of the game/course plan can be problematic for educators without extensive knowledge in computerized gaming and a budget to create such environments. Also, it is difficult to find a good fit between the games on the market and the learning objectives of course materials.

Our presentation will educate conference attendees about the definition and elements of gamification, how to use existing techniques (e.g., simple HTML-base games) and readily available collaborative tools (e.g., Wikis) from a typical learning management system such as Blackboard, Canvas, or D2L to create engaging and effective educational games to increase students’ motivation to learn. Moreover, we will discuss the effectiveness of gamified activities with empirical data from our research project initiated in 2015. 

Interaction/Engagement Activity:

The conference attendees will discuss whether the application of gamification is worth implementing in online and blended learning environments using self-contemplation and cost-benefit analysis. We will demonstrate one of the free tools used in the project to take a real-time vote regarding the audience’s willingness to gamify an online activity.  

Methodology & Results

Data Collection and Analysis:

Participants were Master of Public Health students enrolled in online Biostatistics courses across two consecutive academic years (2015-2017) from a Midwestern university. Eighty percent of the students were females. There were two online surveys for this study including pre-test in the beginning of the semester and post-test at the end of the semester.


  1. To examine whether Integrate gamified activities to the online biostatistics courses can improve following items: confidence levels, academic achievement, and student satisfaction
  2. What are student attitudes (e.g., perceived usefulness and motivation) toward gamified activities in an online setting?

Gamification Implementation

Three different gamified activities have been implemented during fall and spring semesters since 2015. The main purpose is to use the platform to involve every student in this class to review key concepts that he or she has learned. It will also give students the opportunities to earn extra credit. The presenters have chosen two game-based learning activities (i.e., Online Jeopardy Exam Review and Concept Review Bingo) to educate the audience how to create online gamification. Please click the URL (Weblink) below to review the tables and images that describe the elements of each game-based activity. 

Jeopardy Exam Review & Concept Review Bingo:


Results & Research Findings

1. Confidence Levels of Biostatistics:

Three survey questions about students’ confidence of biostatistics knowledge and analytical skill were distributed to students using a secure and reliable online survey system (in the beginning and at the end of the semester). Across all section of Biostatistics course, end-term-of term confidence levels were clearly higher than confidence levels at the beginning of the term.

2. Academic Achievement:

A two-tailed independent t test revealed a significant difference (p < 0.001) in the mean exam scores of two different sections of the Biostatistics course (a section with gamification vs. the other section without gamification). A difference that favored the section that student played 3 different gamified activities to review key concepts. 

3. Student Satisfaction:

Student evaluations of the instructor (on items such as overall teaching ability, critical thinking and subject interest) were substantially higher in the section with gamification implementation than in the non-gamification implementation section. 

4. Perceived Usefulness and Motivation:

About 70 % of students agreed that gamified activities were either extremely or highly useful in helping them review and/or understand fundamental concepts. Moreover, more than 65% of students stated that it would be worth implementing the competitive educational games to facilitate students’ learning in other courses. Finally, more than 80% of students agreed that they enjoyed participating game-based learning activities and would like to have similar learning process again in the future.   

Interaction Activity: Final Decision on Gamification Implementation

Attendees will learn how to create their own “gamified” activities using a free collaboration tool and discuss pros/cons of different platforms and possible strategies to make each platform better. 

Conclusion, Discussion & Take-away Points

  1. The first step to implement gamification is to craft well-defined purpose and objectives. Simply gamifying all contents or all learning experiences does not make any sense.
  2. Once the gamification activity is implemented, gather feedback and student opinions are needed to improve for learning activity effectiveness from gamification.
  3. Keep in mind that not everyone is going to like gamification, just as some students don't like pure lectures or discussion activities.
  4. Built a solid foundation for the course itself FIRST before implementing gamification.
  5. Consider different platforms because students’ technology affordance may vary due to pre-existing knowledge & experiences of online educational games.
  6. Based on our preliminary research findings, gamification did improve learning outcomes significantly.
  7. The gamification of learning and instruction is still a relatively new field.  Therefore, do some experiments, explore different gamified activities, and have some fun.

Interaction/Engagement Activity:

During the presentation, we will use real-time polls for the Q & A session with ranking capabilities. Conference attendees can submit questions and upvote/downvote peers’ questions using any web-based device (e.g., smart phones). During this activity, we plan to answer the questions in the order of the popularity of questions based on the ranking provided by the audience.