Engaging Learners: Building Gamification into Instructional Design 

Engaging Learners: Building Gamification into Instructional Design 

“Fun from games arises out of mastery. It arises out of comprehension. It is the act of solving puzzles that makes games fun.” – Raph Koster, Theory of Fun, 2005

It can be challenging to engage learners. Building gamification into instructional design can help keep learners engaged.

As an educator, I have seen the benefits of implementing gamification in the classroom. Students are engaged when they participate in puzzle activities and competitions. Students absorb information more quickly, and retain information even after being involved in a game.

Some examples of gamification in the classroom include:

  • Jeopardy for chapter reviews
  • Matching games for terms and definitions
  • Scavenger hunts for introducing or reviewing material

Technical writers often need to create training materials. But, how do you make them effective? One way is to use gamification.

Know Your Audience

It is a good idea to design learning experiences that enable learners in a variety of ways. For example, some learners like to compete, while others prefer completing tasks. The opportunity to participate in a range of different experiences and challenges will help to better engage your learners.

Gamifying Course Material

When you gamify course material, you integrate game elements into non-game contexts. Game elements may include:

  • Characters
  • Stories
  • Skill levels
  • Rewards
  • Feedback

So, what makes a game fun to play?

  • Choice of actions
  • Challenge
  • Connection to material


One fun way of building gamification into course material is to use a story. Stories can embed facts, challenge learners, and relate the learner to the context of the desired learning outcome. Implementing levels, challenges and quests can also challenge users, and offer an excellent context for continuous feedback.

The more interactive and immersive the story is, the more sustained engagement learners will experience.


Another way of building gamification into course material is to use puzzles. Puzzles are great to develop problem-solving and reasoning skills, in addition to patience and perseverance! Puzzles enable learners to develop a variety of strategies to find solutions. As with stories, puzzles can embed facts and challenge learners.

Puzzles provide opportunities for inquiry and discovery, and enable sustained engagement for learners.

How to Build Gamification into Instructional Design

1) Start with an activity.

2) Match goals to objectives. Think about how students will progress to master the material.

3) Design interesting and challenging ways to meet the learning goals of the activity.

4) Create a system of feedback.

Additional Ways to Engage Learners through Gamification

  • Provide incentives that encourage learners to meet goals. Incentives may include points, badges or rewards.
  • Include visuals to show examples.
  • Use case studies so students can apply knowledge and skills.
  • Mix in tasks or quizzes to challenge and evaluate learners.
  • Include games, Q&A, challenges, and feedback at the end of a learning program to ensure objectives were met.


Interested in how gamification works in the classroom? Check out this article.

On September 13th, 2014 the STC-CWC hosted a workshop with Jim Tallman. The workshop focused on applying certain instructional design principles to training.

Karl Kapp, an instructional designer, offers a variety of webinars on gamification. You can view his resources here.

The Instructional Design and Learning SIG had a great webinar last year. You can read about it here.