What is Gameful Course Design?

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Gameful learning is a pedagogical approach that takes inspiration from how good games function, and applies that to the design of learning environments.  

To dispel some myths that you may have heard - Gameful learning is not about turning learning into a game, but rather being inspired by games. We choose to play games, even though and because they are hard. It's not necessarily about making learning "fun."  It is about fostering student motivation so that students continue pursue academic goals even when they are challenged.


The big idea behind gameful

Gameful design is rooted in self-determination theory. The big idea is that the best learning takes place when students are motivated to do something because it is meaningful to them, rather than for a reward (like a grade).  This internal or intrinsic motivation is built by students being be able to make meaningful choices over what they are doing (autonomy), be challenged by a task but feel like they can succeed (competency), and feel connected to those around them (belongingness)  (Ryan & Deci, 2000).


So how do we establish support for these feelings? And which elements from games help us get there?

First, we start with a perspective switch: Instead of a percentage system where students begin with 100% and lose as they complete assessments, to one where they start with zero points and earn up as they complete experiences and show content mastery.  This means no curves, either at an assignment level or at the course level.

Second, most gameful courses offer choice in some way.  Choice can be manifested in many ways, like choice in topic, choice in difficulty, or choice to resubmit an assignment.  The goal is to empower students to take some ownership in their learning.  To do that, they should have some say in the assessments they complete.  

Third – we support and encourage transparency and feedback.  In a gameful course, students should be aware of all the assignments in the course and should receive meaningful and prompt (as possible) feedback on assignments.  We believe this helps students make better choices about their own learning, and encourages them to improve.


Elements of a gameful course

Gameful course design may incorporate:





  • Clear learning goals

  • Explicit grading schemes

  • No curves

  • Building up from 0 points (rather than down from 100%)

  • Multiple options for assessment

  • More choices than necessary

  • Different modality options for assessing the same topic

  • Frequent feedback

  • Practice with reinforcement

  • Rubrics and communication

  • Actionable challenge and failure

  • Storytelling

  • Shared goals

  • Identity play


Of course, there is more to think about, and we encourage you to continue to explore the resources both here and at http://gamefulpedagogy.com as a way to get started planning your gameful course!


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Article ID: 9102
Thu 10/13/22 1:31 PM
Tue 3/26/24 1:32 PM