How to Effectively Use Gamification in Education with Moodle

How to Effectively Use Gamification in Education with Moodle

Gamification has several definitions, but a simple one would be: it is to apply game elements (items, rules, goals, rewards…) to non game contexts in order to improve the outcomes, engagement and diversion of the participants.

Seeming a buzzword nowadays, as it is indeed, it has been widely used in several fields for many years, and, for sure, you’ve been a target of it anytime during your life, or, even more, you’ve used it unconsciously. For example, rewards given to children in exchange of good grades; points earned at the gas station; collectible yogurt glasses; or badges earned in forums.

Being a general philosophy, it can be tricky to get the use of it in Education. On the one hand, the educational world and its actors differ from others. There are plenty of emerging and growing technological systems, that not always let gamification fit in. Teachers lack handbooks to clearly know how to start up the process, and many of them don’t have a technological profile. And, finally, gamification has multiple stages to be considered (analysis, design, implementation, measurement and readjustment).

Another interesting focus point is where to locate it inside the educational field, a way complex structure. The answer is straightforward: gamification is a framework that can be used anywhere and in any level of complexity. It can be directly applied to contents, to the pedagogical framework (usually constructivism), or even to other complementary frameworks (Edward Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory, Harvard University’s Visible Thinking Project, etc), or teaching strategies (PBL, flipped classrooms, etc).

That is really powerful, because you don’t have to choose among frameworks. You can create your own blended solution from an eclectic perspective, always on behalf of your teaching practice and your students. For example, if the multiple intelligences theory classifies students according to their abilities, gamification describes how those students behave as players inside a game.  If the educational curriculum tells what contents to teach, gamification explains how to make them attractive. If constructivism helps in how to teach, gamification instructs you how to make the process engaging. And if other techniques improve the whole picture, gamification, definitively, reinforces it.

Among the advantages of applying gamification in Education we find that: it engages students and teachers; the achievements come quickly; excellent students get a high profile; and diversion and competitiveness are promoted. But there are some aspects you have to put an eye on: gamification has to be applied like a whole approach if it will be effective; players have to play voluntarily; there are ways to cheat; it can lose power with time; and it has to be applied in the right proportion.

After reading the coming lines you’ll know how to gamify a course and implement it using Moodle. At the end of the article you’ll find a link to a real example based on a LOTR (lord of the rings) style theme. Most of the gamification mechanics are used in it, so try to identify them.


Knowing the elements involved in a gamified system is key, for they have to be smartly interwoven in a coherent tapestry. For example, once decided which dynamics to be applied, the corresponding mechanics will have to be chosen, and the tools to implement them as well, always in a cascading current. That’s the reason why you should use diagrams and tables to write down your elements’ dependencies; you’ll find them of great value when designing and when readjusting your own system.

It’s understandable that many gamified solutions don’t include all the elements to be described soon. It’s up to the gamifier to decide what to use and what not, but bear in mind that outcomes could be radically affected in a negative way if you went directly to use components without any prior design and planification, as it happens with systems only using the PBL triad (points, badges and leaderboard).


According to which expert you read from you can find distinct types of players, but for the sake of simplicity the most common ones are:

  1.     Socializers: they love social interaction and teamwork.
  2.     Free spirits: they need their own pace and make their own decisions.
  3.     Achievers: collecting things and excelling, those are their main goals.
  4.     Philanthropists: helping others for the sake of the whole system is a must for them.
  5.     Mere players: the common specimen, just playing for fun.
  6.     And disruptors: the ones wanting to blow everything up.

The interesting point about players is not to get lost in a new classification of students (we also have the multiple intelligences framework for so), but to know which mechanics to apply, and which type of player works better for every specific mechanic. In fact, a player type tells us how that player behaves. For example, socializers love forums and chats, free spirits freedom of choice, and achievers collectible items.

A good player based strategy would be: analyse your students and classify them; and, use each type’s preferred mechanics. But if you won’t be feeling comfortable with player types, just be sure you include most of the mechanics in order to ensure you’ll reach out the whole spectrum. In classroom, mere players are the most abundant ones. Followed by socializers, free spirits and achievers. And in a lesser degree, philanthropists and disruptors.

Disruptors deserve a special mention, being extremely easy for them to ruin up your system. Then, instead of fearing them, you need to let them express their disruptional nature somehow, without putting in risk the rest of the elements. For example, if your gamified solution will be about starting a start-up company, a disruptor could be the bad guy trying to shut it down.

To know more about players, features and related mechanics:



In Education there are different goals depending on what point you’re observing from:

  1.      The overall goals: knowledge acquisition, and inclusion in society.
  2.      Curriculum goals: specific concepts and attitudes for each subject.
  3.      Other goals: mostly transversal or not explicitly mentioned.

The educational curriculum is full of objectives, organized in matrices. Depending on your country you’ll find them in different formats. Take advantage of it to have a clear big picture, and spice it up with your own experience as a teacher.

Goals are very important. They mark the beginning of the cascade previously mentioned, that is, to achieve a goal you’ll apply some dynamics supported by some mechanics implemented by some components. A bad decided goal will create a useless cascade and a waste of time and effort.

Remember you can create a classification of goals (tree or matrix like), and assign different importance levels to them. Perhaps for you teamwork is much more important than showing a high digital literacy.


It could seem there’s no use in setting up limits, but they can come in handy if you don’t want to get lost in a limitless land. Goals and boundaries are closely interconnected. They’re the yes and noes.

In school those frontiers are well established:

  1.      Human: the inherent limits of students and teachers, according to the stage they’re in, their abilities...
  2.      Technical: student and teacher knowledge about computers, the Internet, Moodle...
  3.      Time: lesson preparation, terms, school year.
  4.      Subject: direct and indirect contents.
  5.      Pedagogical: the followed current (i.e, constructivism), didactic strategies, teaching style.
  6.      Technological: communication and device structure.

Story (main theme) & aesthetics:

Even though this is considered a mechanic per se, it has to be separately mentioned if we’ll understand motivators and fun elements later.

Experts say whatever gamification solution is condemned to fail if its not supported by a good story. Think of tales. You can tell your children not to trust unknown people, but it’s much more effective to wrap that lesson inside a Little Red Hood tale, where children can experience, recreate and taste the real drama found in it. Why is that so? Because when you are told a story you have to create it inside of your mind; no matter how many details you’re given, each person will build their personal inner recreation.

There are more techniques based on storytelling. If you check mnemonic techniques, you’ll find they use story based strategies to remember long chains of apparently non related concepts. In fact, the story is the glue which sticks everything together in a meaningful context.

Stories used in gamification must vary depending on the stage you are teaching in. If you’ll be working for primary: epic stories, cartoon related ones, fantasy and so will work effectively. But as students get older and older the story style will need to be adjusted. It’s easy: just listen to your students; know them; their tastes; what they watch on TV; etc. In secondary they experience a change in their personalities due to puberty, being transformed from children to adults. That could be the reason why films about obscure transformations are so effective (just remember the so popular vampire and mutant movies). For even older ones you might like to make your gamified story be closer to reality, as building up a start-up company, or being a renowned hacker trying to break a technology company.

Stories should also be adjusted to subjects, somehow. Think of a geek’s adventure for ICT. A historical event to teach history. A zombie pandemia to teach biology. Even an intrusion in the CERN lab to teach physics, an alchemist learning chemistry, or a human invested in God’s power to create a world and learn about ethics. But, for some cases, mixing styles could be even more effective. Be imaginative.

When speaking about stories, there’s a bunch of types to be taken into account: narrative (novel like), challenge, brotherhood, research, self expression. And to make a tale structure you can find plenty of information beyond the beginning, middle and end simple chart, reading several experts’ works, as:

  1.      Vladimir Propp (
  2.      Georgis Polits (
  3.      Tobia (
  4.      Or Christopher Booker (, among many others.

Creating an engaging story for your lessons will obviously demand more effort from your side, but it’s engaging, it’s funny, and it opens up a new exciting way of teaching.


Very closely linked to the story, aesthetics plays a big role. It is about colors, graphics, fonts, sounds, videos, etc. It reinforces the story and should be chosen carefully and coherently. For example, if you’ll be using a Greek scenario to teach Maths, then scrolls, temples, gods, ancient paintings and the like would be appropriate, but a galaxy related one, with shuttles, lasers and so could be felt weird. Similarly, if every icon is going to be yellowish (with that scroll hue), a different colored one wouldn’t fit in the set.

The aesthetics also includes:

  1.      Dimensions of your story: length, amount of items, limits...
  2.      Perspective: 1st/2nd/3rd person.
  3.      Scenario: futuristic, historical, epic, real...
  4.      Dashboard (control panel).
  5.      Storyboard (flow of actions): this is a comic like structure you can use to define the control flow. If you are a more STEM like teacher, you can use a graph like diagram with nodes and arrows.
  6.      Iconography and fonts.
  7.      Palette: choosing colors is easy than ever with the help of many sites. Once chosen the main color the rest of the palette if generated automatically.
  8.      FX (special effects).

Motivators and elements of fun:

When we are driven to do something, we call that force a motivator. The intrinsic ones are those not imposed from the outside, and they are the most powerful ones. It’s just doing because you want to do it, not because someone else tells you so.

The list of the most important motivators are: power, love, social relationships, status and curiosity. But there are more. From the positive ones, as epic sense, honor, idealism, development, tranquility, independence, ownership, order, acceptance and family; to others not so positive, as scarcity, loss or vengeance. When designing your story try to include as many of them as possible in the plot, even though most of them can be found in nearly every tale.

To implement the motivators there are several actions considered funny, like: invading, spacial reasoning, destroying, constructing, creating, chasing, forecasting, exchanging, surviving, challenges, collecting, matching, discovering, exhibiting, ruling, enjoying beauty, gathering knowledge, and organizing teams.

Thus, you can conceptualize the motivators like the general drivers, and the funny things as the specific actions to achieve them. If you choose the motivator social status, you can work it out through the actions: invading, ruling, and organizing teams.


These are general rules to apply to your system. For example, rewards instead of punishments. Teamwork instead of individual work. Active participation instead of the passive one.

Dynamics come from goals and motivators. For example, if one of your goals is to improve teamwork, then the social status motivator could be appropriate. Sometimes motivators, dynamics and mechanics just merge. For the previous example, you’ll work it through a social interaction dynamic. Then, you’ll find equivalent mechanics like forums and chats, and components which, in practice, are the same. Just keep yourself flexible and don’t try to be very strict trying to put each element in its place.

Mechanics and components:

There is a vast list of mechanics to choose from, so once you’ve decided the dynamics it is quite straightforward to decide which mechanics to include, considering that:

  1.      In general, they are classified in groups: challenges, chance, contest, competition, cooperation, acquisition, feedback, rewards, turns, and transactions.
  2.      You can choose to use certain groups according to the players’ types. For example, achievers will definitely like mechanics of achievement, while socializers will prefer social mechanics. Some mechanic groupings are: social, achievement, trading, or contest related, to mention some.
  3.      If you want to make it plain and simple, just choose at least one mechanic from each group. Anyway, all mechanics are enjoyable and valuable in some degree, so you’ll end up using most of them.

The mechanics list coming now can be implemented using whatever system you choose. For this case, Moodle will be mentioned as the LMS in use:

  1.      Some of them will have a direct component (plugin) to be implemented.
  2.      Others will need a combination of components.
  3.      And, it could happen some mechanics not to be implementable in any way, or need too much work to be put in practice.

Let’s start with mechanics having a direct component in Moodle.


Continued on the next page...

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