How to Effectively Use Gamification in Education with Moodle

How to Effectively Use Gamification in Education with Moodle

1 Theme:

This mechanic is closely linked to the story and aesthetics, and it is very powerful, letting you infuse your gamified system with the appropriate atmosphere: helping the story, incrementing its attractiveness, and promoting other features, as it also helps in: controlling how information is released, and in setting up the boundaries. In other words, the theme is the mask, the interface, the facade the players will be seeing while playing.

Be careful to create an integrated and fissure free theme. A backdoor (for example, an inconvenient option forgotten in a drop-down menu) could ruin the story, leaking out delicate information at the wrong time. Many themes doesn’t just change the colors of the standard one, they do add plenty of new functionality and elements. Fortunately, Moodle’s configuration options are so extent you shouldn’t have any troubles fine graining your course. For the sake of control, erase every block showing extra information (as you’ll see later on, you’ll be using orphaned activities to implement some mechanics).

Themes are very common tools in the existing LMS’s, and they are normally implemented in the form of templates or just themes, and they can usually be adjusted to your own needs. Installing a theme in Moodle is straightforward and automatic through the admin console (

But there are many more tools you can apply through scripts, widgets and the like (Badgeville, Playfulshark, Funifier…). For so, use the HTML option of the editor, where you can directly paste code. Labels are great to make that code’s effect be felt in the section layout. Or you can add an html block (pane) inside the course, insert your code and set it up to appear during specific conditions (you will be asked when that block should appear).

Embedding your own javascript code in Moodle can make a difference:

  1.      Showing a character (
  2.      Creating a storm of snow ( and all sort of effects.
  3.      Making hidden items appear randomly.
  4.      Controlling time.
  5.      Nearly anything (

But bear in mind your code will be something outside of the Moodle system’s state (it won’t be saving information to the database), so if you want your lines to remember what’s been happening during the player interaction, then you’ll have to use cookies or save its state somehow ( For example, you would like to make a character appear once to make an announcement, but it would be annoying to see it every time you navigate.

2 PBL:

The acronym stands for Points-Badges-Leaderboard. These are the most classical, most used and the oldest ones. Their functioning boils down to “do something, earn something”, creating a ranking inside a leaderboard.

Earning stuff is a recognition of a job well done, and it gives you status and incentivize others to achieve the same level. Moreover, sites like OpenBadges ( lets you transcend your achievements from a personal LMS to a wide open showroom. Designing your badges is very easy too:

The problem comes when you collect dozens of badges and tons of points, as they can eventually lose their meaning. That’s why it is so important to be specific about how they will be earned and interchanged for other goods. That is what it’s called thevirtual economy, and it has an incredible transcendence, establishing a bridge between virtuality and reality, i.e, how those points, ranking and badges will be converted to grades. Students are usually happy with playing, but they always ask: how many grade points is this badge worth?

The main difference to be found between points and badges is that the first are easily earned, maybe just by interacting with the system, while the second are granted for accomplishing more complex tasks or for attaining a certain level of excellence. Because of that, points are more appropriate to ensure interaction with the system, as visualizing stuff, browsing or taking part. This mechanic could lead players to vainly interact with the system to simply earn points.

Points put you somewhere inside a ranking, but there are even more uses other than entering a leaderboard: unblocking things, granting goods, leveling up, transforming into something, joining a group...

On the other hand, leaderboards are as interesting as dangerous. They create a sense of challenge to push people to compete for a better ranking, but: lazy gamers will give up, seeing themselves deep down in the list, without any chance to catch the first positions; and, gamers enrolling late will have the same problem. There are several solutions for leaderboards:

  1.      Earning points should be easy in the beginning, but harder and harder as players go up in the ranking.
  2.      Using partial leaderboards, so players only see what’s around their position.

Moodle has a plugin called Level Up ( which automates the point/leaderboard mechanics, and Badges are actually integrated in the latest versions (

3 Avatars:

One of the interesting things when you join a game is that you can be someone else, like a superhero, an animal or whatever that fits best with the game aesthetics. In an LMS the avatar is held by a profile, and it can mean more than just an image:

  1.      A complete profile of the user, with references to external profiles, blogs, likes and dislikes and so on. Thanks to this, a low profiled student could be better known by the rest and gain some social recognition.
  2.      A personalized character working as an alter ego that helps students join the game.

Filling up your profile information and designing an avatar can take a bit long, that’s why you should consider granting rewards. Many sites will give you a profile badge, and others will show a progress bar like widget ( Moodle lets you configure special general badges for this task.

There are some global avatar systems with the create-once-use-always philosophy, like You can also try the Moodle plugin to sign in with external accounts (Facebook, Google Plus…):

Avatars can also be used for social recognition, or for teaming. Let’s suppose you want to reward a student and make him have a high profile. You could send him a badge picture they could insert in their avatar (

In any case, keep an eye on your students’ creations, in case some could be offensive.

Creating an avatar is much easier if you use any of the free sites you can find in the Internet. Check these:


4 Certificates:

This mechanic is similar to the PBL. They are a kind of reward, but in this case a certificate involves more power, having a real value in life:

  1.       Granted at the end of the course by a recognized institution.
  2.      With real social and career value.
  3.       Recognizes effective educational instruction.

You can use an ad hoc plugin to automatically grant them after completing a course:

5 Competitions:

This is an interesting and powerful mechanic with a direct Moodle component called workshops (, where a peer-to-peer review dynamic is used, i.e, students must grade their mates.

P2p evaluation imposes a great responsibility and a high sense of justice to players. They should grade the rest fairly, and not for their own sake. But in the same way, challenge and critical thinking are promoted.

Inside a gamified structure, a competition should meet the story’s features. It could be a battle, a dialectic encounter, a game show. Disguise it accordingly.

When dealing with workshop you’ll notice names are shown when evaluators are assigned. That can definitively be a problem for your mechanic. For small groups (blended courses inside the classroom) personal relationships can affect the true meaning of competitions (friends favoring friends). To solve it, names can be hidden changing the workshop permissions, and don’t forget to tell your students not to sign their works to ensure complete anonymity.

6 Social meeting points:

Forums and chats are classic examples and quite common tools in every LMS. These resources are very powerful as they:

  1.       Ensure social interaction and teamwork.
  2.      Can reveal powerful players, who could later work as ambassadors.
  3.       Sustain team learning (Vygotsky’s social learning,

But they also need to be watched and dynamized appropriately. Players can get bored rapidly, and a bad set up forum can be a pain in the long run. Besides, being a place to interchange information your story could get damaged due to leaking. Moodle has forums, chats and wikis for social interaction, and forums can be set up so players grade others’ messages as well.

To empower your course, you should consider using other systems, like Minecraft, OpenSim or Second Life, much more attractive for the eye and definitely more engaging. Social networks, Twitter, Facebook or Google+ among many, are well-known, but be careful with privacy, and check if your LMS provides some sort of integration with them. Second Life and OpenSim can be integrated with Moodle thanks to Sloodle (

Once again, remember to decorate them according to your story and aesthetics, transforming a forum into an intergalactic assembly, a prophet's’ corner, or an AI system.

7 Time

This is a simple and powerful mechanic included in all aspects of our lives in the form of due date, making your students mobilize themselves and feel positive tension if time is managed smartly. But time can be as engaging as negative: it could create a sense of lose; bad timing could ruin it all; it could block the story; a lazy student could give up yet even before starting.

One more time, remember time doesn’t have to be a dull due date. Your story will model it, and it could have the looks of planet cycles, sea tides, moon states and the like, not to mention sand clocks or ancient devices to measure time. Countdown clocks, put on a visible spot, give a clearer vision to players. The Moodle calendar is another good agenda to help players not forget about their dues.

Time could definitively set a stop in your storyline. Think about a task not accomplished blocking the next step (if you’ve designed a linear storyboard). Grace periods or even not taking time into account are some solutions to the problem. Instead of restraining the path just adapt grades, something like: final grade = work’s grade - days late * k (decide what value to give k according to how late a student could submit a work).

8 Feedback

This word involves plenty of things:

  1.       Information: related to data about the course, i.e, completion status, progress bars, maps… This one creates a sense of progression and location, which is of paramount importance for students. Besides, it is bidirectional, as you can take advantage of it to poll players about their opinion.
  2.      Action-reaction: it is about consequences. You do something, you obtain something in return, being it positive or negative. This feedback brings to mind Pavlov's classical conditioning.
  3.       Interaction: the last one, and closely related to games. This gives sensory response of what happens when interacting with an element. Being more technically complex you will need to include javascript and so to make your screen elements be able to respond to user actions.

Components for feedback:

  1. Progress bars, course completion and check-lists: an important thing for students is to let them decide about how to organize their time, something they can only do by knowing what their situation is at every moment. For some cases, this could be a problem for slow paced students. You have at least one plugin for each of the components mentioned inside Moodle.
  2. Signposts: these are like those maps placed at strategic points at malls.
  3. Polls: check your system’s difficulty, engagement, participation, satisfaction… by asking its participants.
  4. Maps: really common in games, they report about your geoposition in the game. To implement maps in Moodle, think of photograms. Create several maps and put them on top of sections (inside labels) to let students know where they are. If you’d like a map to be dynamically changed in the same section, program them with the restrict access option to let them show in the way tasks are accomplished.
  5. Tutorials: these are knowledge pills released when needed. If you use a wizard (a sort of an assistant) to communicate them you’ll add more value and closeness to your story. Tutorials guide the player along the adventure, and thanks to them long and boring manuals can be avoided. They can also be used to explain the use of Moodle’s components. They can be implemented in many ways: labels, books, lessons, or web-pages.

9 Brotherhoods:

This great mechanic gets advantage of the family motivator. If we observe aggregations of people like:

  1.      Groups: a bunch of people.
  2.      Teams: a coordinated group with specific goals.
  3.      Then, brotherhoods are a family and honor infused team.

People are usually ready to renounce to personal aspects just to join groups. It is a natural alienation process to feel accepted in a social structure. That is more accentuated during puberty, when personality is developing. Besides, when joining a group, according to the group dynamics theory, its participants usually adopt some roles and there are power fights. Moreover, adjacent groups could have the tendency to fight each other. These natural processes can be used for the sake of your plans.

In Moodle, for example, you can create groups as a teacher, but there’s also a plugin (Group Choice, to let your students join a specific one by themselves. You could even let them organize the group assigning roles inside of it, or you could keep an eye on the leaderboard and grant ambassador status to the best players. This can be done creating an ambassador role and granting permissions above the ordinary ones granted to a student by default (

Moodle lets you activate elements depending on the group you are assigned too, giving you a great power to create distinct adventure paths. Or you could create separate forums for each group, so they can plot comfortably. The possibilities are vast.

So far we’ve analyzed mechanics with direct components in Moodle. The rest to be seen don’t have any, but we’ll learn how to implement them through a combination of several tools provided by the LMS.

10 Keys, power-ups, abilities:

Keys are devices to unlock passages. Power-ups are the natural evolution of a player. And abilities are special features a player learns to do. Although they seem different, they are quite the same.

For example, let’s suppose there’s a blockage in a path. The player needs to go from point A to point B. A key could do the trick to unblock the path, but you could also design your game so a powered-up player could smash the block, or moreover, the player could learn a new ability to pass over the block. It all depends on what the block is for you: a door, a rock, a matrix of lasers…

Moodle includes some features, like restrict access and activity completion, which let you activate an item once some conditions have been met. You can create a chain of labels, assignments, forums and the like, and you can set them up so that they are hid until the previous step is completed (

These mechanics create a sense of progression and empowerment, and give students some sort of freedom and a chance to make their own decisions. But, as you can see, you are the one creating an illusion inside the story.

11 Console and inventory:

Consoles are control panes, full of indicators (LEDs, screens, speakers) and activators (buttons, levers). And an inventory is a bag stuffed with items collected during the quest. Both are complementary, and the inventory is normally shown in the console. As you’ve already realized these two are feedback elements, but they don’t have any direct component to be used, so you’ll have to combine labels and restrict access to do the trick. Let’s see how to collect and use a key:

Picking the key:
  1.   Let’s suppose you want your players to find a key they’ll later use to open a door.
  2.   The inventory will be located in the upper section of your course (the ever present one). The key will already be there as a hidden label with the image of a key.
  3.   You’ll place the same label (a duplicated one) along the course.
  4.   When the moment arrives the player will see the key, and the checkbox to mark it as completed using activity completion (meaning they’ve picked it up).
  5.   When ticking the checkbox the label will be marked as completed, and the label on the console (checking the activity completion condition) will show itself.
  6.   Now the item will be on the console (inventory) ready to be used.
  7.   If you want to fine grain the process you can even hide the key you’ve picked.

Using the key:

  1.   When the player gets to the door two labels will be appropriately placed: an open one and a closed one.
  2.   Both labels will check if the key has already been picked, and depending on that one door or another will be showed. For so, once more you’ll use restrict access and activity completion.
  3.   The following activities will check if the open door is active.
  4.    If you want the key to be removed from the console once used configure the label so that its appearance depends both on whether it was picked and the door was opened (a combination of conditions).

The possibilities are more than just using keys:

  1.      Instead of a linear story create a tree of paths for the story, depending on the items collected, the player status, etc.
  2.      Grant rewards depending on grades, participation, leaderboard status.
  3.      Let students join groups based on their current status of development.

12 Virtual money and market:

Bear in mind that trading your virtual items for real stuff is really important for your students. That is, they’ll be ready to play the game as long as they can interchange their achievements for grades. It happens the same for adults as well, wanting their effort to be translated into a certificate they’ll use in real life.

Thus, it’s very important to know well which valuable items you’ll be using, their virtual value and their real one, and how the trading process will take place. That economy board should be explained to students so they can administer their finances.

Moodle doesn’t provide anything like that, but you can follow two strategies:

  1.       Use a mixed approach (half automated, half manual): grant badges and translate them to grades manually.
  2.      Use a pure one:
    1.    Create an economy item (a treasure label) pointing to an orphaned lesson/exam.
    2.    When accomplished the lesson a grade will be obtained.
    3.    All grades will be collected in the gradebook automatically.

13 Rewards, random rewards, gifts, special items, lottery:

All these elements are linked in some manner: you are given something in exchange of something, usually an accomplishment. Anyway, subtle differences are found:

  1.      Rewards: you win something.
  2.      Random rewards: you win something because you are at the right place and time.
  3.      Gifts: you are given something for free, maybe to encourage players to keep on.
  4.      Special items: a kind of a special reward with a special use, usually given to excellent players.
  5.      Lottery: a random gift based on chance.

On the one hand, rewards create a sense of attainment and are also part of the virtual economy. You can use them to attract players to specific spots as well. If you feel like some areas of your LMS aren’t as crowded as they should, you could spread some rewards (easter egg style) to make people move there (let them know about the game).

On the other hand, gifts are tools to equilibrate the game. A player needs stuff to keep running, so you can grant items every other day, for example. Let’s not forget random rewards, which are tools to keep players for as long as possible inside the LMS. They never know when those rewards are going to appear, so they really need to keep walking around.

If you want your rewards to have some value in Moodle, you can link them to activities that can be graded. That way they’ll appear in the gradebook. A good way to do so is the use of orphaned activities. Hide an exam/question inside an invisible section, and link it through a label with a treasure chest. If the reward’s use is going to be another one (not a grade), just follow the same strategy you did with power-ups.

Random rewards would need a bit more work with javascript. Create a script that returns a link to a lesson based on some random calculation, and place it inside a label.

14 Special events

This is a short period offer/bargain offered to players to attract them to the system. Lots of games use it: “for the next 3 days scoring will be doubled”, or “the paths will be unlocked”, or even “you’ll level up if you sign in”, and the like.

These events have to be clearly announced (for example, a banner with a countdown clock) at homepage. It attracts players, and helps the delayed ones, but it could also disequilibrate the system.

To implement such mechanic in Moodle create a label with the announcement banner. Program it so it appears at a certain time. When the label is shown other items will be shown too. Wrap up these events in the form magic crops, stock market opportunities, system breakdown and so on. The story must rule, again and again.

15 Grades:

A mixture of rewards, feedback and progression would be the definition of a grade. You can take the best features of such a mixture and use them for grades (that’s why it’s been put here, instead of in the previous section of direct components). In spite of which grade system you are using (numbers or letters), remember you should adjust it to your gamified solution and change the names accordingly. For example, an A+ could be “the golden warrior level” (or even “the company CEO”), and a D could go like “the learning peasant” (think in positive, and don’t make low grades sound like “the evil shadow” or so).

Grades are the bridge between virtual economy and the real one. If you get a 10 in your LMS you’ll have a 10 in your real gradebook. That’s why it’s so important to use them as a trade coin for the rest of the virtual market items (for example, a silver badge will be worth 2 grade points).

16 Choice:

Another powerful mechanic which gives students the option of choice and decision:

  1.       Tasks: take test 1 or test 2.
  2.      Maps: go along the green path or the red one.
  3.       Groups: join the hackers team or the virtual guardians faction.
  4.      Items: pick them up or not.

According to the decisions made, different storyboard lines could be followed. For so, your storyboard design should take the form of a graph (with nodes and lines) to know where you are stepping out from, and where you are stepping into depending of what choice you made. The more complex your graph, the more complex its implementation inside your LMS, but the more interesting and engaging for your students.

Sometimes you don’t just want to get lost in the mess, and even though a path was severed in two, they could be rejoined later in the same one, making it easier for your design.

Choices can also be made depending on your players current status. For an excellent one, you might show extra assignments, or hide the easy ones to show others, more complex. This strategy would definitively equilibrate your system. Anyway, be careful with dead-ends and too difficult paths.

Once again, use Moodle’s restrict access option to put in practice the choice mechanic.

17 Equipment and power-up:

These two are quite similar, and they give the player an extra of something, being strength, life, speed, stamina or whatever. To have a clear picture of what equipment is think of Iron Man; and a Pokemon evolution could picture better a power-up, not to forget Hulk, a transient power-up. Equipment and the inventory are related somehow.

In a Moodle platform you can play your students:

  1.       Assign easier tasks to powered up players. Thus, the player is not strengthened, but their environment is softened. For they the power-up sensation is assured.
  2.      Unlock paths depending on the equipment. Very similar to a key, but remember you are creating a fictitious illusion, and a bionic exoskeleton could be felt the same.
  3.       Reallocate the players inside the teams according to their power levels.

Restrict access, inventory and choice are mechanics to be combined to create power-ups.

18 Free lunch and parties:

These are about fun. Parties are just that: parties. Break the daily routine and delight your students with something different. Instead of the normal assignments you can post an interesting film or game.

Free lunches are about sharing your own items with others. This virtual give-away should be handled manually, but to make things easier:

  1.       Let a top student unblock something to the rest of the players.
  2.      Let the player with most points save someone, giving away some of their points.
  3.       And for disruptors, let them do some evil.

19 Ambassadors:

They are the best players. They:

  1.       Take part most of the time.
  2.      Help others.
  3.       Dynamize the system.
  4.      Are natural leaders.
  5.       Are eager to be in charge and help you.

Identify them as quickly as possible, and make them help you manage the system. Grant them special powers and distinctive avatars, and include them inside the ambassador groups. Forums are a good place to identify them.

Consider offering the position at the beginning of the course, or instead of granting it in one step you could create several stages, like: promising star, passionated helper, and ambassador. Keep a continuous communication flow with them, and encourage them frequently.

Moodle lets you create new roles and grant them permissions (as letting the ambassador administer a forum).

20 Quests and epic challenges:

Missions composed of several steps are considered quests. Those steps can be assignments or mechanics, or a mixture, being linear or tree-like:

  1.       Watch a video, write an essay, submit it and comment your impressions in a forum.
  2.      Earn points in a forum, join a team (Groups Choice), take a path.
  3.       Pass a test (Exam), obtain a weapon (inventory), confront others in a battle (Workshop).

An advantage of quests is that players work with multiple things holistically in a tiny adventure like structure. You can include many quests along your course, and try always to make them attainable.

When you are thinking about a big quest then you are thinking about an epic challenge. These ones require more time, effort and preparation, and they could be more apt for advanced students. An epic challenge could be required to achieve a certificate.

21 Sandbox:

In order to create a safe beginning for your adventure you can create a first stage, controlled and secure, where your players can taste your course, try things, fail safely and know the rules of the game.

Design a very easy first section in your Moodle course. Include a pinch of this and that, combining many of the mechanics mentioned, so your students can try them for the first time without much fear.


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