November 30, 2015




The language learning app Duolingo uses game principles to motivate you to learn a language – it started with Spanish and now offer French, German, Russian, Turkish and ten others. The app gives you sets of vocabulary to learn and then provides a variety of well designed assessments to test your knowledge on that vocabulary.  As you complete these challenges, you earn experience points and levels, and unlock new challenges (vocabulary sets). You can compete against friends to see who has earned higher levels for an individual language or overall. Meanwhile, behind the scenes the app is using your participation to translate the world wide web word by word into the various languages it offers.  This free app teaches you a language and translates the internet, using game mechanics for motivation.

Gamification is the practice of applying game design principles to non-gaming activities.  Points, achievements, and badges can be used as extrinsic motivation to reward and archive activity in a broad array of fields.  Car companies have gamified efficient driving by providing positive visual reinforcement for fuel efficient driving.  The programming communal tool GitHub has gamified coding by developing a color coded visual representation of user activity.  A quick glance shows how often and how active any user has been for the last six months and encourages users to stay active.  From Boy Scout badges to gold stars in the kindergarten classroom, gamification has long been used in childhood education but is now being consciously and critically applied to university education.

There are many elements of gamification that can be applied individually or in combination to college courses.  Grading systems can be reframed from a model in which students start with and try to maintain an A, to one in which students start with 0 points and complete activities to earn points towards their final grade.  Faculty can employ badges to recognize students for rising to the challenge and succeeding or even just completing more than the minimum.  Difficulty curves, scaffolding, tutorials, and even syllabi (the rule set for your class) are all elements of a course that can be improved by critically applying lessons learned from games.



Gamification – How the Principles of Play Apply to Real Life

Gamifying Education

Gamification to Improve our World

Classroom Game Design

The Future of Creativity and Innovation is Gamification

What is Gamification? A Few Ideas.

Teaching with 3D GameLab: Quest-Based Learning


A study of the effectiveness of Duolingo in teaching languages:

  • Roumen Vesslinov and John Grego, “Duolingo Effectiveness Study,” December 2012. (url)

Description of a human behavior and disaster management course built around the idea of surviving a zombie apocalypse:

  • Ben Winsor, “Even Military and Police Want to Take this College Zombie Survival Course,” Business Insider, Oct 21, 2014. (url)

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Challenge Activity


  1. What is gamification?
  2. How does gamification differ from game-based learning?
  3. Are gamification and game-based learning mutually exclusive?
  4. What are examples elements of gamification?
  5. Where was gamification present in GOBLIN?
  6. How was gamification utilized in GOBLIN?
  7. Where is gamification present in your courses?
  8. How can gamification be used in your courses to increase student success?
  9. Develop a plan to use gamification in your courses.

Suggested Games

These are games that we believe use gamification effectively:


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