Gamification as a Way to Engage Students


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Gamification has rapidly become an active learning tool for students. Gamification is the utilisation of game design elements in non-game applications to produce favourable outcome or behaviour (Deterding, Sicart, Nacke, O’Hara, & Dixon, 2011). The game elements have three characteristics: goal, obstacle, and collaboration or competition. (Smith-Robbin, 2011). The game elements can be further explained based on two distinct concept, dynamics and mechanics (BunchbalL, 2010). Game dynamics use reward, ranking, accomplishment, self-expression, competition, and altruism as motivators. While game mechanics are the mechanisms taken to arouse certain feeling of the players such as excited, enjoy or frustrated by using points, levels, challenges, leaderboards, and gifts.

According to Folmar (2015), gamification is defined as the utilization of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts. He is more focused on the “game thinking” in the application of gamification. “Game thinking” is important when applying gamification in the educational context. According to Zichermann as cited in Alsawaier (2018), the main reason that causes failure in different context is due to lack of game thinking. Instead of incorporating game features without consideration, game thinking demands rethinking teaching method. According to Folmar (2015), the purpose of gamification is to impart and develop knowledge continually based on the response from the players by using game thinking.

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There are also other gamification definitions that concentrate on the gamification educational application. Kingsley and Grabner‐Hagen (2015) stated that gamification should be considered in a highly interactive educational environment as a blend of “content area learning, literacy, and 21stcentury learning skills”. While Hamari, Koivisto and Sarsa (2014) is more emphasized on the result produced by gamification such as “motivational affordance” and behavioural change.

Gamification is a new concept using digital gaming components in a non-game context (Su, & Cheng, 2015). According to Koivisto and Hamari (2014), gamification is one of the strategies to involve people in activities such as sport or education. Gamification addresses problems, engages and motivates people by utilising game design elements and game-based mechanics in a non-game application. Based on Dominguez et al., gamification can raise motivation and engagement of learners effectively. It provides a promise of resistance to failure by reshaping it to a necessary part of learning. Gamification allows learners to evaluate their abilities, and create an environment where effort is awarded instead of mastery. By doing so, it teaches the student to see defeat as a chance, rather than become frustrated.


Motivation is related to psychological elements and it will affect decision-making and behaviour (Brooks, Brooks, & Goldstein, 2012). Dörnyei and Ushioda (2011) has mentioned that motivation will dynamically change an enthusiasm of a person in which that the cognitive and motor processes will be evaluated in order to prioritise the initial wishes and desires. Motivation can be categorised into five components which are intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, task value, ability belief, and expectancy for achievement (Hsieh, 2014). Desires of humans for overcoming obstacles, curiosity and mastery are the roots of intrinsic motivation. Elements that have no relationship with task value such as rewards, grades, and evaluation of others are known as extrinsic motivation. Task value, on the other hand, is the evaluation of the learner on the advantages and disadvantages of certain tasks. While expectancy for achievement is the goal of the learner in the future (Wigfield, Byrnes, & Eccles, 2006).

In every human being, intrinsic motivation is fundamentally and naturally present (Ryan, & Deci, 2000). It is important as it drives humans to explore, to overcome obstacles, to create and most importantly to learn. They also stated that the intrinsic motivation elements can be ignited by the contextual circumstances. Zarzycka-Piskorz (2016) asserted that gamified education that emphasised on intrinsic motivation that can foster learner’s engagement. This is because when the learners feel pleasurable in their learning, this will gain interest of the learner towards certain subjects. This will eventually increase their engagement and concentration in the subject. As a result, sustainable learning can be formed through foster learning.

Motivation theorists have stated that students will achieve more knowledge if they are interested and involved in the learning (Su & Cheng, 2012). The satisfaction of students toward the educational environment is crucial (Khaleel, Ashaari, & Wook, 2019). If the learning activities can arouse the excitement and enthusiasm of students, it will increase their motivation to learn and help them to achieve a higher level of learning performance (Khaleel, Ashaari, & Wook, 2019). Similarly, Su and Cheng, (2012) also found a strong positive impact of learning motivation on learning outcomes.


A number of definitions concerning the term of engagement have emerged in the numerous studies. Based on the literature review, most of the researchers have defined student engagement as the participation of the students to search for knowledge either physically or mentally (Dixon, 2015) In the view of Hu et al. as cited in L, he stated that there is an engagement when online learning platform is used by the students and he also stated that only the students have the ability to access the learning materials.

Such studies also describe the contributing factors to the students’ engagement. Hu, Li, Deng, and Guan (2016) have categorised students’ engagement into three dimensions: cognitive, emotional and behavioural engagement. However, other scholars are emphasised more on the observable aspect of the engagement which are behaviour, effort, dedication of the students in performing the task (Ryan & Deci, 2000). On the other hand, Dixson (2015), pointed out that students engagements are comprised of four factors, such as skill possessed by students (skill engagement), feeling of the students (emotional engagement), activities participate by students (participation) and result of the student assessment (performance engagement).

Motivation and Engagement in Gamification

Past Studies

Investigations about the influence of gamification in terms of student motivation, engagement, and learning outcomes have been done by several researchers. For instance, Papastergiou (2009) found that gamification approach has positive effect in student engagement and active learning. He also indicated that a relaxing learning environment is enjoyed by the students. Wu (2018) also obtained a similar result as gamification contributed in the form of increasing motivation, engagement levels, and learning performance of the students.

Research had done by Anderson and Barnett (2011) for the purpose of comparing the effect of a game called ‘Supercharge!’ with the traditional approach. He found that the group using ‘Supercharge’ outperformed the group using the traditional approach in terms of understanding electromagnetic concepts. As highlighted by Sousa and Rocha (2018), they discovered that the gamification approach contributes to the development of skills. These skills include motivational, coaching, social as well as leadership.

In Wang and Lieberoth (2016) studies, they obtained the same results despite of implementation of Kahoot in different situations (event and semester). Both groups reported that Kahoot creates engagement regardless of the length of time it was used. Moreover, both students also stated that Kahoot encourages engagement in learning as they wished to win in the game. From the results obtained, Wang and Lieberoth (2016) drew a conclusion that the duration of gamification has no impact on the engagement of students.

However, there are some contrasting results. In Squire (2005) studies, he revealed that the use of gamification has an impact on learning as it can instead decreases the motivation level of students. Moreover, Hanus and Fox (2015) discovered that subjects taught by non-gamification method showing higher motivation level and final examination grades as compared to subjects taught by gamification method. Thus, from past studies, we have obtained mixed results with regards to student motivation, engagement, and learning outcome.

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