Exploring gamification as a teaching methodology


Every quarter, the Product Innovation team at SAGE stop their day-to-day activities and instead experiment with new technologies which they have an interest in, or which may have an impact on the company. Before Christmas we had one of these Timeout events.

During the ½ day session our team looked at gamification as a teaching methodology. The team decided to focus on the following tasks:

  • Summarize what gamification is and how it can be used in education

  • What does research say about the effect of gamification on learning?

  • Should SAGE experiment with gamification for e-learning?

  • How hard is it to build a gamified lesson?

What is gamification?

Wikipedia defines it as ‘The concept of applying game-design thinking to non-game applications.’ The elements that are usually being used include:

  • Point system and leaderboards

  • Branching activities

  • Story-telling

  • Quizzes

  • Badges

Gamification icons.jpg

What does the research say about its effectiveness?

Findings on two systemic reviews on gamification and learning performance say that “gamification could be linked to a direct increase in learning performance of students” (1) and a combination of game elements (e.g. leaderboards, badges, points and other combinations) positively affects students' performance, attendance, goal orientation and attitude towards mostly computer science related subjects (2).

Other interesting insights that the team found are:

  • Gamification and social networking increase skill acquisition but traditional e-learning scores better in knowledge acquisition. Participation rates are low but attitudes are positive.

  • “Simply framing the activity as a game though vernacular and artifacts holds almost as much psychological power as the full game mechanics”.

  • Gamification helps motivation if it is used in a way that respects intrinsic motivation – too much focus on extrinsic rewards can harm motivation. Similarly, social elements especially competition receive varied responses. It’s not one size fits all and using a variety of gamification tools is desirable.

  • It may be helpful to consider personality as a factor when designing gamified elements.

We also found this matrix as a useful rule of thumb on how different types of games are used based on the learning goal and problem type.


We even found an account of schools using E-sports as a Learning Platform. In this use case the game platform used was the mass multiplayer online games, League of Legend.

Should SAGE experiment with gamification for e-learning?

SAGE is not a stranger in supporting its books’ authors to use gamification in teaching abstract subjects like Statistics. One of the most successful books that SAGE ever published is Andy Fields’ An Adventure in Statistics .

Could we use gamification principles to produce bitesize online courses, starting from this very successful book and more general research methods?

The team found a fun, retro, easy to understand and addictive online game that is trying to teach ‘correlations’.

This game gave us first hand evidence that gamification can indeed be used to teach abstract concepts like research methods. Most existing examples of learning stats and research methods content is for K12 level (kids) so this would give SAGE a wide open market to introduce new content.


Our assumption was that ‘I can jump straight into an editing workspace where I can drag elements on the canvas and link them with arrows and then hit play’. We found that there are numerous tools out there to create this kind of content. We split tools in two main categories:

  • Open source/free tools that are very powerful but complex and with a steep learning curve

    • Wimi5: site closed since we did the experiment

    • Gamefroot

The team even managed to create a couple of games with these tools which provided more evidence that we can develop cheap prototypes:

 These games are silly and probably inaccurate, but the point was that we could do this in around an hour.


Overall, this was a fun mini experiment. We believe gamification is a topic that our idea incubator SAGE Ocean, might explore further in the future, particularly how it can be used for improving the effectiveness of online learning material, teaching research methods.

If you want to get involved, please get in touch here.


Razvan Telitoiu, Shiran Juttla, Katie Metzler, Rachel Crookes and Dmitrijs Martinovs.

Header image credit Alexas_Fotos

Blog post written by Razvan Telitoiu