How Gamification Boosts Competitive Learning


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The notion of incentivizing people is not new, but the term “gamification” entered the mainstream vocabulary in 2010, and the following year it became a viable trend.

The growing popularity of Gamification stems from the belief in its potential to foster motivation, behavioural changes, friendly competition and collaboration in a variety of contexts. It has been applied in various domains, including marketing, healthcare, human resources, training, environmental protection and wellbeing. Education is no exception.

Gamification is a multidisciplinary concept spanning a range of theoretical and empirical knowledge, technological domains and platforms and is driven by an array of practical motivations (Seaborn & Fels, 2015).

In an attempt to best capture the essence of the underlying concepts and practices, the term gamification has been defined in several ways, such as “the use of game design elements in non-game contexts” (Deterding, Dixon, Khaled, & Nacke, 2011), “the phenomenon of creating gameful experiences” (Hamari, Koivisto, & Sarsa, 2014), or “the process of making activities more game-like” (Werbach, 2014). 

Games Vs. Educational Game:

Before we proceed and gain more profound knowledge of Gamification, let us understand the difference between “Game” and “Educational game.”

As per Mayer & Johnson’s definition – a game is a “rule-based environment that is responsive to the player’s actions, offers an appropriate challenge to the player, and keeps a cumulative record of the player’s actions”. The human condition goes hand in hand with the competitive spirit, so in offering us the opportunity to seize victory, a game becomes an exciting and attractive environment and an ideal opportunity for learning to take place.

While an educational computer game is defined as “a technology-supported game that is intended to result in a desirable change in the player’s knowledge.” (Mayer & Johnson)

There are possibilities of us not always being attracted to an educational game as we are too good old-fashioned to shoot them up; however, educational computer games are still a lot more appealing to learners than traditional didactic learning.

Adding games to the learning practice can make even the most mundane tasks seem fun, improve knowledge retention, increase learner engagement, and build a healthy competitive learning environment.

Precisely, Gamification of education is the application of game elements to the process. It aims to increase the speed and effectiveness of training. These elements comprise of the following:

  • The visuals are more closely related to video games than traditional educational materials.
  • Interactive components that involve multiple physical senses and movements.
  • Jigsaws and challenges.
  • The goals are split into small targets quickly achieved for faster and intermittent gratification.
  • The existence of the narration and the characters.
  • Feedback in real-time.
  • Collaborative and competitive.
  • Increasing difficulty as entry-level skills is mastered.
  • Player-driven progress.

Though many of these elements are present in traditional training models, play teaching makes them more visible and immediate. This produces a variety of improved results.

Focusing on gamification, we highlight what wonders gamified approach to learning can do and the benefits of competitive learning in this post.

Highlighting competitions in Education, Tom Verhoeff expressed that genes provided to the offspring carry them with built-in knowledge and skills sometimes referred to as instincts and reflexes. On the flip side, there is the indirect path via education, where education is meant in a broad sense. The descendants learn by observing and imitating mature members of the species. While the knowledge and skills are transmitted by education. Humans, however, rely much on education as they inherit only the ability to learn them for certain types of knowledge and skills. For example, learning a language is inherited, but subsequent development of this ability through education is needed to learn any particular language. It is often unclear whether something, such as a desire to compete, is inherited or acquired (resulting in nature-nurture controversies).

However, it is believed that it is a natural human tendency and more visible in children. They often seem to have an innate desire to compare themselves with others in every way, for example, by running and wrestling. Such play is beneficial to a child’s development. It is a small step toward physical and intellectual competitions, commonly known as sports that adults engage in themselves for their own sake. As in the field of education, certain forms of competition have been formalized for a long time in the history of humanity. This means that competition is subject to rules and is organized by experts. Nevertheless, the first historical documents are much less explicit on this subject than in the case of education.

Today play/game, especially digital game has become an integral part of education. A sudden surge in usage of digital games and applied sciences into learning environments has been witnessed in the recent past. It is affecting both the teaching of educators and the learning of students. The game-Based Learning (GBL) approach can be successfully used to improve both learning and teaching. It simply means including games in your instruction. One of the most significant challenges for the educator is with-success teaching big groups of learners, all of whom have different personalities, capabilities, and learning preferences.  

Gamification also leads to collaboration and competition. The term collaboration underpins collaborative and cooperative learning arrangements (i.e. situations where learners work together to achieve a common objective/goal) while being evaluated in groups (collaboratively) or individually. (Cooperative; Prince 2004).

In the broader context of games, collaboration can affect the needs for both relatedness and competence (Rigby and Ryan 2011). It allows for teamwork and thus the experience of being important to others and enables learners to master challenges they otherwise might not overcome on their own, resulting in feelings of competence.

On the other side, competition can cause social pressure to increase learners’ level of engagement and can have a constructive effect on participation and learning (Burguillo, 2010

Collaboration—as well as competition augmented by aspects of collaboration (i.e., constructive competition)—can have additional beneficial effects on intrinsic motivation when compared with solitary engagement in an activity; as in cases of collaboration and competition augmented by aspects of collaboration, the need for relatedness is fostered additionally. Mere competition, however, can thwart feelings of relatedness when the goal is to defeat each other rather than to improve skills together (see Rigby and Ryan 2011). 

Findings from the context of games have shown that collaborative gameplay can be more effective than individual gameplay (Wouters et al., 2013). Clark et al. (2016) included competition in their meta-analysis on digital games and found that combinations of competition and collaboration and single-player games without competitive elements can outperform games with mere competition. In this meta-analysis, we investigated whether different types of social interaction moderate the effects of Gamification on cognitive, motivational, and behavioural learning outcomes.

Additionally, Gamification in education fosters competition. Most people are provided with an opportunity to measure and compare their progress or success with their colleagues or other individuals. It emerges as a fundamental fact of human nature, with a few exceptions.

Gamification is consistent with this trend by providing direct and accurate measures of progress and success. It does so by including the levels, achievements and notes inherent in the process and changing them immediately at the end of a task.

These claims are not just anecdotal. As per the research, using games in teaching can help increase student participation, foster social and emotional learning, and motivate students to take risks. Another study of the popular multiple-choice quiz game Kahoot claimed to have improved students’ attitudes toward learning and boosted their academic scores. In addition, studies have found that virtual games are great at improving focus and attention for students with ADHD and help students with dyslexia improve spatial and temporal attention, which can translate into improved reading.

What are the game elements and their pedagogical role?

When we speak of games, our minds instantly think of the most common games’ features, such as rules, interaction, goals, feedback, competition, problem-solving, history, and fun. Though not all of the elements are necessary to successfully gamify a learning activity, carefully selecting those elements that help meet the course’s learning objectives can be helpful.

Some of the teaching values of game characteristics often associated with Gamification are:

Experience points/systems:

Like conventional scoring systems, game or experience point (XP) systems reward students for performing various tasks, tasks or evaluations. Game or XP points may provide some functional advantages to learning environments, including:

  • Unlimited Points: While traditional filing systems collect learning artefacts that accumulate at 100% of the grade of a course, points or XP systems accumulate fixed endpoints in view.
  • Flexible goals: students are presented with many possibilities to earn points, and instructors can structure the slot they accumulate as many as they complete a certain number of tasks to reach the desired point total.
  • Student Choice: Choice is fundamental to the success of a point-based system. For example, students can earn points by concentrating on thought-provoking activities, completing several tests, or any other activity relevant to the course.
  • Tracking: You can track points using the LEARN gradebook function with points instead of percentages or Google Drive to share results with the whole class.
  • Academic rewards can also supplement points: On reaching a specific point threshold, a learner can be given extra days or weeks to submit a project, assignment or bonus question on the next test.


Badges are a digital means of recognizing students’ work. For instance, students might receive a badge if they achieve certain levels of success on assignments or do additional work, such as submitting a draft or sharing notes with another student. They can even result from simple participation: access to the course through the LMS five times a week during a semester could earn a badge. Students’ badges can be shown to other students to encourage competition or demonstrate the variety of earned badges. 


Competition can motivate students and leverage by leaderboards highlighting students’ total point distribution by performing certain learning activities.

However, one must be conscious while constructing leaderboards because displaying the total points of all students can be a disincentive for students at the bottom (Farzen, DiMicco, Millen, Dugan, Geyer & Brownholtz, 2008; Landers & Landers, 2015).

Prefer using a system in which students see only the two students who are directly above them and below them to foster a healthy sense of competition without discouraging students who perform poorly.

Let us see, what the benefits of competitive learning are?

Competition is often considered one of the most controversial and misunderstood issues in education. Should we include our students? What about collaboration? Is it not a competition about winners and losers? It is difficult to know what to believe about educational competitions because there is so much misinformation and conflicting research on the subject. Keeping all the confusion out and focusing on the benefits, herein, we cover just a few of the positive benefits that students may receive:

Improves Teamwork and Collaboration

In education, we often mistakenly intertwined the “Competition and Collaboration” debate. We think that competition is the antonym of collaboration; however, well structured, consciously designed competitions foster collaboration and teamwork by breaking it down.

Competing in a group require pupils to take on challenging tasks that require good communication, collaboration, and teamwork. Working together on such a difficult task requires them to work harder to understand their specific competencies and work well with each other. Knowing that other teams are focused on achieving the same goals helps motivate teams to become more cohesive and collaborate better.

 Enhances Social and Emotional Learning

Developing social and emotional learning (SEL) is a complex development area for many learners; they may seek educators’ help at times. Several factors are at play; sometimes, it becomes difficult to determine the impacts and if the corresponding actions will have the same consequences for all pupils. All methodologies are used to help students gain social and emotional skills; competitions can have a wide range of impacts on different students. However, the best practices in competition design will help students maximize their benefits from competitions. They can better understand how to deal with conflicting opinions and ideas, collaborate with widely differing personalities, and manage subjectivity in their lives. Furthermore, they can learn to gauge better and evaluate risks.

Develops Academic Role Models

To increase a student’s academic self-identity is crucial to have a role model, hero or idol that inspires them. Especially, K-12 grades are malleable to the influence of older peers and those they perceive as being “socially superior” to themselves. Competitions are the most robust way to do this. We can learn from sport and athletics about this where there are specific evaluation criteria on which youth can easily see who is a subject matter expert and who is not. Setting up a similar structure in educational institutions will help our students value educational criteria, which they cannot do at this time.

Increases in Intrinsic Motivation

When it comes to people’s perceptions, it is another contentious one. The popular RSA Animate video highlighted that creating external incentives diminishes students’ intrinsic motivation because we stress the value of the task as being only valuable due to an external reward. The research behind this video has happened in the competition design world because we have learned to make the incentives right. Simply encouraging a task that demands even a bit of mental effort with a monetary reward is not a good motivation. However, we know that creating a challenging and targeted process behind the task is motivating!

Competitions have learned this and increasingly rely on highlighting the process and challenges driven by the purpose of the competition to motivate students. Rarely do we see competitions highlighting significant awards at the end as the reason to participate.

Foster growth mindsets

In 2006, Dr Carol Dweck published his now-famous book, “Mindset.” It describes the advantages of having a growth mindset in learning and life. Dweck noted that we are constantly looking for ways to improve with a growth mindset, which leads to increased opportunities in our careers and personal lives. Learning to have a growing state of mind is not something that is taught in school. We can acquire this skill by performing small iterations and repeatedly exploring the enhancement of our tasks. Competitions provide a framework for the practice and facilitation of a growth mentality for our students. They provide points of reference on which we can base our improvements and value the challenge of improvement.

Builds Mental Toughness

Mental toughness comprises persistence, resiliency, and grit. These are valuable real-world skills that come in handy across every area of our careers and lives. Also, we all need to learn how to bend and not break when under pressure. We should prepare ourselves to handle stressful, competitive situations effortlessly. In a K-12 setting, educational competitions aim to provide students with safe scenarios to practise these essential skills. Students faced with complex challenges can learn how to pick themselves up and retry if they fail. Moreover, on experiencing failure, they can learn that failing to achieve the best marks is not the end of the journey but just a stepping-stone and a fantastic learning experience. They should be encouraged to participate, not to win or lose but to learn.

Developing Agency

Today, companies in the high-tech industries look for candidates who can think, analyze situations and determine a course of action without being instructed in a certain way. Unfortunately, the traditional schooling setting and test model barely allow students to practice these skills. Competitions, on the other side often require them to think on their feet, analyze the results of their processes, make improvements, or determine a new course of action. Through the process of these competitions, students learn to take on responsibilities. Today, companies in high-tech industries are looking for applicants who can think, analyze situations and determine an action plan without being educated in a certain way. Unfortunately, the traditional educational setting and test model barely allow students to apply these skills. On the other hand, competitions often require them to reflect on their feet, analyze the results of their processes, make improvements, or decide on a new course of action. Through the contest process, students are taught how to take responsibility.

However, educators need to follow best practices in guiding the students through this process to help them not feel overborne and under pressure.

Improving Risk Analysis

In traditional education, there are few opportunities to teach students analysis skills. Most schools have begun to understand the importance of Gamification and other 21st century skills; however, few are successfully executing high-quality programs where students are required to analyze risks in real-world situations and determine a course of action. Many kinds of education contests offer a safe environment for them to do so. In tournaments, engineering design competitions and open solutions challenges, there are many ways that students are responsible for assessing risk. Through these programs, we can help students better prepare for the workforce of the 21st century with well-developed risk analysis skills.

Help make kids future-ready

One of the most significant benefits of competitive learning is that involving a kid in competition prepares the kids with a real-life scenario. The real-life situation provides them with different knowledge apart from education; such as they learn to create the best decision-making process and approach for involvement in different curriculum activities. All of these helps in developing your child’s skills, growth, and development. Hence, these practices will lead your child to become successful in various competitions.

Increase the confidence level of the students

Involving in different competitive learning games or exams such as study, curriculum activities, exams, and competitive exams (JEE & NEET) provides different knowledge and success to the students. Therefore, educators need to provide their best guidelines to boost their confidence and a brighter future.

Learn new skills and development

The competitive marketplace will always provide you with the different experiences that will help shape the skills and development of students. This competition will always help make your child a brilliant career. Hence, involve your child in the competition that creates the future and develops skills and development.

Do you know more benefits? If yes, do let us know!

About the Author

Author: Saniya Khan

Saniya Khan I am Saniya Khan, Copy-Editor at EdTechReview – India’s leading edtech media. As a part of the group, my aim is to spread awareness on the growing edtech market by guiding all educational stakeholders on latest and quality news, information and resources. A voraciously curious writer with a dedication to excellence creates interesting yet informational pieces, playing with words since 2016.

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