Moving Gamification Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards

Workshop Session 2

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Learners deserve better than the shallow extrinsic rewards some have called gamified learning. Join me for an interactive session where we will explore new ways of thinking about gamification that put the learner at the center and leverage design methods that focus on long-term motivation and engagement.​


I am one part artist and one part geek, and little did I know but my super power was in my name all along. Some just thought my name was spelled weird but actually Valary with a Y or Why at the end represents my insatiable curiosity and passion for getting others to ask more questions. I transitioned from a career in the performing arts to one in the learning sphere. For more than two decades I have worked as a classroom instructor, online facilitator, instructional designer, presentations coach, project manager, and consultant. I am a frequent speaker at live and virtual conferences and can be found throughout the cyber worlds blogging and tweeting on gamification, e-learning, creativity, communication in the digital age, and more.

Extended Abstract


In the beginning, gamification was shiny and new and full of promise, but it quickly tarnished for some. It was sprinkled like pixie dust on poorly-designed instructional materials. People thought that just adding points, badges, and leaderboards (PBLs) to their learning would be the answer to their issues of learning engagement and knowledge retention. But they missed the point (pun intended), as they focused too exclusively on the extrinsic reward aspects of gamification and implemented their PBLs in ways that were devoid of meaning to the learner and they limited their view of gamification to a very small subset of options available.

In this session we will reboot gamification and take a look at a few of the countless options that can be used in conjunction with, or instead of, points, badges and leaderboards. We will start with a fresh perspective on what gamification can be – a process not a product. By taking on a gameful mindset, we can ensure that we are making instructional design choices that put the learner at the center and we can focus not just on what types of learners we serve but rather who they really are and what motivates them.

During the session participants will be introduced to a GAME Plan model that they can use when applying gamification to their learning experiences. While it is not a linear model it is composed of four pieces which work together and encourage an iterative approach to course development. Each part represents one of the letters in the word GAME, making it easy to remember and use. First you determine your Goals and make sure you understand your Audience, then you can move on to the Mechanics piece in which you select the right activities and game elements and integrate them seamlessly into the overall Experience you are creating for your learners. 

The session begins with partnered or small group discussions about why games are engaging and begin to see why we might want to add gameful elements to our courses. We will also touch on the importance of using story, fun, and the affective domain to spark learner curiosity. If we don't capture the learner's interest we will have a hard time keeping their attention and building engagement. 

Next we will take a look at the four parts of the GAME plan. There will be a brief activity after the introduction to each part of the GAME Plan.


The first step, before even deciding whether to incorporate gamification into your solution, is to determine what problem you are try to solve. What is your goal? Until you can answer that question, in the immortal words of the Monopoly board, “Do not pass Go” or collect anything. One of the most common mistakes is to decide to gamify before establishing goals. This includes a number of layers including, looking both at the overall course goals and the learners’ goals and how the two align, thinking about what smaller, intermediate or bite-sized goals the learner may need to tackle along the way, and how we can make learner progress more visible and thereby keep them on track.

We will stop here to reflect on ways that a current course the participants are involved in might be able to apply this part. Are there ways that they could make their learners’ progress more visible? Are there ways they could create clear, smaller goals that would provide milestones for learners along the path to their overall goals?


Once you have established the goals of your project, the next step is to determine who your audience is and what motivates them. Three concepts that might inform your choices of which game mechanics might have the greatest appeal to your audience are player types, intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation, and self-determination theory. Self-determination theory, in turn, breaks down into three categories that are extremely important in supporting intrinsic motivation, particularly in adult learners: autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

We will stop at this point to do an activity focusing on developing a learner persona. This allows participants to take the content from this section of the presentation and begin to develop a fictional student that represents a portion of their learner population. When designing it can be helpful to have a collection of a few representative students in mind to help us ensure that our approach is focusing on the learners and not just providing content. 


This is the phase where you will find ways to make the goals actionable, design activities that will move the learner from where they are to where you need them to be, and use game mechanics to overlay the experience and provide feedback to the learner. The success of a gamified solution is not how much they played or enjoyed the gamification but whether the behaviors have been changed to meet the goals. The emphasis of this section is to show participants the importance of selecting gameful elements that the learners will find meaningful and that support the goals you have established.

Participants will be provided with a handout that contains a starter kit of 40 gameful elements that they could think about mixing and matching.


The final piece of the GAME plan is to examine what the overall experience will be. Sometimes the gamification will satisfy a targeted need with a clear start and end. Other times the journey will be ongoing and there will be a need to ensure ways are built into the system that help the learner continue to be engaged. Gamified solutions provide feedback both to learners and those administering the program and that feedback should be heeded to help evolve the system. No matter how well conceived a gamified solution is, it will become stale over time if it remains static and does not grow with the learners.

As a concluding activity, small groups will explore ways they could use the ideas in the presentation to improve learners' day one experience. We will focus on ways to get learners more engaged right at the start of the course by coming up with ways to improve course syllabi and online introductions between students. These course elements provide a unique opportunity to capture learners but are often overlooked when we revise and improve courses.

Key takeaways

  • A refreshed view of gamification that is a process, learner centered, and focuses on intrinsic motivation
  • A better understanding of the core elements of gamification aside from points, badges, and leaderboards such as story, challenges, progress indicators, and surprise
  • A model (GAME Plan) they can employ when gamifying learning
  • A template for developing learner personas
  • A handout that includes content from the presentation as well as a list of gameful elements to mix and match in their learning experiences

Who should attend

This workshop is intended for all levels of experience, both in terms of instructional design and gamification. The focus is on building awareness of the possibilities gamification offers and creating curiosity so previous experience is not necessary, but the re-envisioned approach is also suitable for those with previous experience. While the topic will likely be more relevant to instructors and designers, those who manage and serve in administrative capacities might want to consider the session as a way of exploring a way of addressing student engagement and retention issues. Gamification can be used both at the course and the institution level.