Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Gamification in Education: A Systematic Mapping Study

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Gamification in Education: A Systematic Mapping Study

Article excerpt


Traditional schooling is perceived as ineffective and boring by many students. Although teachers continuously seek novel instructional approaches, it is largely agreed that today's schools face major problems around student motivation and engagement (Lee & Hammer, 2011). The use of educational games as learning tools is a promising approach due to the games' abilities to teach and the fact that they reinforce not only knowledge but also important skills such as problem-solving, collaboration, and communication. Games have remarkable motivational power; they utilize a number of mechanisms to encourage people to engage with them, often without any reward, just for the joy of playing and the possibility to win. Creating a highly engaging, full-blown instructional game however is difficult, time consuming, and costly (Kapp, 2012a), while typically targeting only a single set of learning objectives as chosen by the game designer. In addition, their effective classroom adoption requires certain technical infrastructure and appropriate pedagogical integration. As opposed to using elaborate games requiring a large amount of design and development efforts, the "gamification" approach suggests using game thinking and game design elements to improve learners' engagement and motivation.

Gamification, defined by Deterding et al. (2011) as the use of game design elements in non-game contexts, is a fairly new and rapidly growing field. The concept of gamification is different from that of an educational or serious game. While the latter describes the design of full-fledged games for non-entertainment purposes, "gamified" applications merely employ elements of games. The term "gamification" is quite recent: According to (Deterding et al., 2011) its first documented use is in 2008 but it did not see widespread adoption before the second half of 2010. Nevertheless, the concept itself is not new. For example, badges and ranks have been long used in the military, in the early Soviet era, game elements were used by the Soviet Union leaders as a substitute for monetary incentives for performing at work, etc.

In recent years gamification has seen rapid adoption in business, marketing, corporate management, and wellness and ecology initiatives. This is driven by its potential to shape users' behavior in a desirable direction. Loyalty programs such as the frequent-flyer programs, Foursquare, and Nike+ are often given as examples of successful gamified mass-market products. provides another example in which users' reputations increase as they answer questions and receive votes for their answers. Online education sites such as and use game elements to better engage users. The more courses and lessons that users complete, the more badges they earn. Sites like eBay and Fitocracy use game elements to keep people engaged and to encourage friendly competition between users.

Gamification is still rising in popularity. According to Gartner's Hype Cycle (Gartner, 2013), a research methodology that outlines an emerging technology's viability for commercial success, gamification is at the peak of the Hype Cycle in 2013, with an expectation for reaching the productivity plateau in five to ten years. This position, however, mainly reflects its use in business contexts. The penetration of the gamification trend in educational settings seems to be still climbing up to the top, as indicated by the amount and annual distribution of the reviewed works.

This paper presents the results of a study of the published works on the application of gamification to education, which aims to shed light on the tendencies and emerging practices in this area. There are few literature reviews on gamification (see Xu, 2012; Hamari, Koivisto, & Sarsa, 2014; Nah, Zeng, Telaprolu, Ayyappa, & Eschenbrenner, 2014), with only the last one focusing on education. This study differs from the latter by presenting a thematic analysis instead of narrative summaries that focus on a qualitative review. …

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