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Gamification of Education and Learning: A Review of Empirical Literature.

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Gamification of education and learning: A review of empirical
literature
Jenni Majuria
majuri.jenni@gmail.com
Jonna Koivistoa
jonna.koivisto@tut.fi
Juho Hamaria, b, c
juho.hamari@tut.fi
a Gamification Group, Tampere University of Technology, Finland
b Gamification Group, University of Turku, Finland
c Gamification Group, University of Tampere, Finland
Abstract: Gamification has become one of the most notable technological developments for human
engagement. Therefore, it is not surprising that gamification has especially been addressed and implemented
in the realm of education where supporting and retaining engagement is a constant challenge. However,
while the volume of research on the topic has increased, synthesizing the consequent knowledge has
remained modest and narrow. Therefore, in this literature review we catalogue 128 empirical research papers
in the field of gamification of education and learning. The results indicate that gamification in education
and learning most commonly utilizes affordances signaling achievement and progression, while social and
immersion-oriented affordances are much less common; the outcomes examined in the studies are mainly
focused on quantifiable performance metrics; and the results reported in the reviewed studies are strongly
positively oriented. The findings imply that future research on gamification in education should increasingly
put emphasis on varying the affordances in the implementations and the pursued goals of the gamification
solutions. We encourage also increased attention on contextual factors of the solutions as well as on study
designs in future research endeavors.
1. Introduction & background
Gamification, the design approach of utilizing gameful design in various contexts for inducing
experiences familiar from games to support different activities and behaviors (Huotari & Hamari,
2017; Deterding et al., 2011), has continued to be a popular topic within both industry and academia
since its popularization in the early 2010’s. Gamification has gained significant attention especially
in educational contexts (Koivisto & Hamari, 2017; Seaborn & Fels, 2015). Gamifying education
and learning has a long history (see e.g. Deterding, 2014) and an intuitively understandable
background as game design and theories on learning draw heavily from same psychological
theoretical backgrounds (Landers, 2014). Via the technological advancements enabling more
digitized learning environments as well as use of e.g. technical possibilities developed in relation
to video games to create immersive and engaging learning experiences, the trend of gamification
of education and learning has been only increasing.
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The long history and varied ways of incorporating gameful interactions to educational contexts has
also lead to varying terminology for the approach, e.g. serious games, edugames or games for
education, game-based learning, and lately, gamification (Landers, 2014; Seaborn & Fels, 2015;
Deterding, 2014). In the current study we have not made distinctions based on terminology but
instead consider all of these varied approaches to be manifestations of gamification of education
and learning.
Existing reviews on gamification literature have indicated that education and learning are the most
common contexts for empirical research of gamification (Koivisto & Hamari, 2017; Hamari,
Koivisto & Sarsa, 2014; Seaborn & Fels, 2015). Literature reviews on gamification of education
and learning specifically have also been conducted, however, all of these reviews have limited their
scope in one way or another: Caponetto et al. (2014) as well as Marti-Parreño et al. (2016)
concentrate mainly on bibliometric analyses and terminological aspects. Marti-Parreño et al. (2016)
also categorize constructs studied in the literature. Some literature reviews have been limited by
the number of studies included: de Sousa Borges et al. (2014) limited their review to 26 studies;
Dicheva et al. (2014) included only 36 studies, and Dichev and Dicheva (2017) have reviewed 63
studies. Nah et al. (2014) have included 15 studies in their review. As is evident, the prior reviews
have not been extensively inclusive in their review procedures and a large part of the literature has
not been covered to date.
In this review, we conduct a literature review of 128 empirical research papers in the field of
gamification of education and learning. We provide the most extensive overview to date of the
existing body of literature on the topic. We analyze how gamification has been implemented in the
studies in the education domain, i.e. what types of motivational affordances have been implemented
in the literature, what kind of psychological and behavioral outcomes has the gamification been
expected to lead to, and finally, what kind of results have been reported in the studies
2. Review procedure
The literature searches were conducted in the Scopus database, which was chosen for the reason
that it indexes all of the other potentially relevant databases, for example ACM, IEEE, Springer,
DBLP Computer Science Bibliography, and the AIS Electronic Library. Using only one
comprehensive database instead of conducting searches in various repositories was preferred to
increase the rigor and clarity of the data gathering (see e.g. Paré et al. 2015). The search for
literature in the Scopus database was conducted using the search query: TITLE-ABS-KEY ( gamif*
). The search was limited to include conference papers, articles, articles in press, reviews and book
chapters, in order to exclude non-academic publications. The search query was limited to
publication metadata (i.e. title, abstract and keywords) as it was considered that inclusion of a term
derived from the root gamif* in the metadata would indicate the relevance of the paper for the
review. The literature search was conducted in 6/2015 and resulted in 807 hits. The literature
review process is reported in Figure 1.
The retrieved papers were categorized in terms of the type of the publication as well as the domain
in which the study had been conducted. Of the whole body of literature, 270 studies were identified
as full, empirical research papers. Papers were considered to be empirical if some data had been
gathered, the data gathering was reported, and analyses had been conducted on the data. Of these
270 studies, 128 empirical research papers were identified as studies in the domain of education
and learning. Papers were categorized to be in the education and learning domain if the study was
conducted in an educational context. No restrictions in terms of educational level or content were
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applied. The 128 empirical papers in the domain of education and learning thus form the body of
reviewed literature. Full references to the reviewed studies can be found from the online Appendix.
Figure 1. A flowchart describing the literature review process.
Following the guidelines of Webster and Watson (2002), the identified papers were analyzed first
author-centrically and then concept-centrically. The units of analysis were defined prior to the
analyses. Author-centric coding was conducted by checking the pre-defined units of analysis from
each paper and coding them as the paper was read. Through this procedure, a matrix of the coded
literature was produced. In the concept-centric analysis phase the coded literature was then
organized based on further units of analysis. As suggested by Webster and Watson (2002), the
coded concepts were comprised into frequency tables, which form the core of this review.
3. Analysis
In the reviewed body of literature, the most common affordances were different point, challenge,
badge and leaderboard-type affordances (see Table 1). The same affordances have been noted to
be the most frequently implemented ones in gamification research on a general level (Hamari,
Koivisto & Sarsa, 2014; Koivisto & Hamari, 2017) as well as in the context of education (Nah et
al., 2014; Dicheva et al., 2015; Dichev et al., 2017). These affordances can all be categorized as
achievement and progression oriented elements, which form the most common category of
affordances in the reviewed literature. Socially oriented affordances form the second common
category of elements in the given domain.
The use of immersion-oriented affordances has been significantly less frequent in the education
and learning domain. This is an interesting finding considering that different types of (gameful)
simulations and increasingly also virtual reality solutions are fairly common in educational
contexts. However, the research conducted in these field potentially does not consider the work as
gamification-related, and the differing terminology could explain that such studies are not present
in the current body of literature.
Most of the reviewed empirical research papers introduced or examined an implementation
including several affordances. On average, the papers reported the gamification solutions to contain
four affordances.
Literature search: 807 hits
Search for full versions of papers: 802
Further analysis of papers: 773
Duplicates: 2; False hits: 3
Full version not available / not received: 16
Not in English: 16
Full, empirical papers: 270
Not full papers: 252; Non-empirical papers: 230
Full, empirical duplicate studies: 8
Full, empirical but explicitly not about gamification: 13
Full, empirical papers in education
and learning domain: 128 papers
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Table 1. Affordances studied in the empirical research papers.
Achievement/progression
Immersion
67
Avatar, character, virtual identity
15
53
Narrative, narration, storytelling, dialogues, theme
13
47
Virtual world, 3D world, game world, simulation
9
47
In-game rewards
6
35
Role play
3
25
Non-digital elements
19
Check-ins, location data
8
18
Real world/financial reward
2
13
Motion tracking
1
8
Physical objects as game resources
1
Social
Miscellaneous
31
Assistance, virtual helpers
9
14
Virtual currency
7
12
Retries, health, health points
6
10
Full game (also board games), also undescribed
commercial gamification systems
5
3
Adaptive difficulty
3
2
Game rounds
2
Onboarding (safe environment to practice)
2
Reminders, cues, notifications, annotations
2
Penalties
1
The most common psychological outcomes studied in the reviewed papers were use experiences
and perceptions of system and features (Table 2). These were commonly studied with various self-
developed instruments to gauge the experiences of the users. Perceived enjoyment, fun,
engagement, motivation, and perceived usefulness were also commonly studied psychological
outcomes. These outcomes correspond with the common discourses of what gamification is
thought or expected to result in (see e.g. Koivisto & Hamari, 2017; Rigby, 2014; Seaborn & Fels,
2015). The findings regarding the psychological outcomes are convergent with previous reviews
on gamification literature in general (Hamari, Koivisto & Sarsa, 2014; Koivisto & Hamari, 2017)
as well as in the context of education and learning (Martí-Parreño et al. 2016).
The most studied behavioral outcomes were grades, participation in a system, and speed of
conducting tasks and assignments (Table 3). In the context of education this seems logical as such
outcomes are often the quantifiable goals of education. Interestingly, inducing any sort of social
interaction has very rarely been the behavioral goal of the gamification solutions. This finding is
in line with the general trend of gamification implementations not being often designed to support
collaborative action and cooperation (Koivisto & Hamari, 2017).
Furthermore, we analyzed the results of the studies in the current body of literature. We only
included studies containing analyses with quantitative methods in this analysis due to them
providing more easily categorizable results. A significant portion of these studies report positively
leaning results from use of gamification in the education and learning domain (Table 4).
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Table 2. Psychological outcomes studied in the empirical research papers.
Overall assessment / general attitude of the use of
the gamified system
Attitude
Perceptions of use, use experience,
perceptions of system and features
30
Satisfaction
3
Perception of course, perception of
gamification in education
4
Attitude
2
Preference of system type/features
3
Social interaction
Affective
Relatedness
3
Perceived enjoyment, fun
14
Perceived competition
3
Engagement
11
Recognition
1
Flow
3
Subjective norm, social influence
1
Affect, emotional experience
1
Perceived socialness, social context
1
Immersion
1
Social comparison
1
Cognitive
Psychological states and traits / personality features
Perceived usefulness, perceived effectiveness
11
Motivation (also orientation towards various
motivations)
11
Perception of learning
4
Perceived competence
5
Perceptions of additional benefits
3
Interest
4
Involvement, participation
2
Self-efficacy, confidence
2
Effort in use / Experienced challenge
Autonomy
2
Effort, perceived difficulty, challenge
6
Empowerment
1
Workload
3
Personality, user types
1
Perceived stress, cognitive load
2
Familiarity
1
Frustration, annoyance
2
Identification
1
Ease of use
1
Table 3. Behavioral outcomes studied in the empirical research papers.
Performance
Engagement / interaction with the system
Course grade, assignment grade, academic
performance
27
Participation in a system, system use
16
Speed, time
15
Participation in discussions
9
XP, points, score gained
11
Course material views, downloads
9
Learning, skill progression
11
Course attendance, exam attendance
6
Badges gained, tracking of badges
8
Use intentions, willingness to use/continue
1
Number of assignments, amount of
contributions in class
7
Knowledge transfer
1
Number of attempts
5
Physical etc. measures
Amount of contributions/content produced
4
Stress level
2
Accuracy
2
Psychophysiological measures
1
Leaderboard positions
2
Social interaction
Quality of contributions
1
Cooperation
1
Acting on time
1
Miscellaneous
Functionality of software
1
Retention and attrition of users
1
Behavioral strategies
1
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Table 4. Results of studies containing analyses with quantitative methods.
Mainly positively
oriented
Null or equal positive
and negative
Mainly negatively
oriented
Total
Number of papers
65
23
3
91
71,43 %
25,27 %
0,03 %
100 %
The qualitative results in the body of reviewed literature similarly reported positively oriented
findings for many studies. However, due to the nature of qualitative data and methods allowing
richer analysis, many of the studies also reported mixed results. Commonly the qualitative results
contain a mention of e.g. some users benefitting from and being motivated by the gamification
while others do not. As a large portion of the research on gamification is being conducted with
quantitative methods, this finding suggests that some effects and reactions to gamification are
potentially not being reached via the most commonly employed research approaches.
We also examined the results of studies containing analyses with quantitative methods categorized
by affordances implemented in the studies. Badges, leaderboards, and points were the most
common affordances in studies with quantitative analyses (Table 5). As previously mentioned, the
reviewed research papers studied gamification implementations containing on average 4
affordances. When further scrutinizing the body of literature, we identified only 28 studies that
contained a controlled experimental study design, and of these, only 7 studies examined the effects
of one element at a time. This is an issue that has been identified in gamification research on a
general level (Hamari, Koivisto & Sarsa, 2014; Koivisto & Hamari, 2017): even though the results
are positively oriented, it is difficult to estimate the effect of each motivational affordance or their
interaction on the outcomes and the results as controlled study designs are not commonly
employed.
4. Discussion
In this literature review we have reported the most extensive overview of empirical research
literature on gamification of education and learning to date. We have analyzed a body of literature
containing 128 empirical studies examining gamification in educational contexts in terms of how
the gamification has been implemented, what kind of outcomes it has been expected to lead to, and
what kind of results have been reported.
The findings of the analyses indicate that the gamification studies in the context of education
strongly converge with the general research on gamification with regards to the implemented
affordances and psychological outcomes (Hamari, Koivisto & Sarsa, 2014; Koivisto & Hamari,
2017; Seaborn & Fels, 2015). Understandably, however, the behavioral outcomes are more focused
on various quantifiable educational outcomes, such as course and assignment grades, when
compared to gamification research in other settings.
In terms of the results of the reviewed studies, a considerable majority of the studies reported
mainly positively oriented results. However, while the results seem promising, there is also a
significant amount of research with null or mixed results. As pointed out in the analysis, the reports
of qualitative results often indicate very varying experiences and outcomes even when the general
tendency of the findings would be positively oriented. Consequently, the findings regarding the
considerable majority of research reporting positively leaning results should be considered with
caution.
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Table 5. Results of studies containing analyses with quantitative methods by affordances
implemented in the studies (N=91)
Affordance
Mainly
positively
oriented
Null or equal
positive and
negative
Mainly
negatively
oriented
Sum
Points, score, XP
38
13
1
52
Leaderboards, ranking
27
13
3
43
Badges, achievements, medals, trophies
25
12
2
39
Challenges, quests, missions, tasks, clear goals
27
8
2
37
Levels
19
7
2
28
Cooperation, teams
17
2
2
21
Quizzes, questions
15
3
18
Progress, status bars, skill trees
13
2
1
16
Social networking features
11
1
2
14
Performance stats, performance feedback
13
1
14
Timer, speed
12
12
Narrative, narration, storytelling, dialogues, theme
10
1
11
Avatar, character, virtual identity
8
1
9
Competition
7
1
8
Assistance, virtual helpers
6
1
7
Retries, health, health points
6
6
Increasing difficulty
6
6
Peer-rating
5
5
In-game rewards
5
5
Check-ins, location data
5
5
Virtual world, 3D world, game world, simulation
4
1
5
Virtual currency
3
1
4
Full game (also board games), also undescribed
commercial gamification systems
1
2
3
Customization, personalization
2
1
3
Adaptive difficulty
3
3
Multiplayer
2
2
Onboarding (safe environment to practice the rules)
1
1
2
Reminders, cues, notifications, annotations
1
1
2
Real world/financial reward
1
1
2
Role play
1
1
Game rounds
1
1
Motion tracking
1
1
Penalties
1
1
Total
297
74
15
386
To address the challenges of the existing research, some suggestions for future research are
provided. Firstly, prior research has indicated that there are several contextual factors affecting the
experiences from gamification in each situation, e.g. demographic (Koivisto & Hamari, 2014) and
personality factors, the associations attached to the task or activity in general (Hamari, 2013), and
the temporal and spatial context (Deterding, 2015). Congruently with previous research, the results
of this review also indicate that future research should pay more attention to the contextual factors
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affecting the gamification as potential source for the varying results (Hamari, Koivisto & Sarsa,
2014; Koivisto & Hamari, 2017). Furthermore, since we as individuals have different learning
styles in addition to our personality and demographic characteristics, future research endeavors are
encouraged to also address these in the gamification solutions as well as in study designs.
Secondly, as noted in the analyses, most of the studies were conducted with gamification
implementations containing several affordances without controlling the effects of each to the
outcomes. More attention should thus be paid on the study designs to produce knowledge on the
effects of isolated elements in educational settings. Moreover, employing controlled study designs
and further triangulating the results with various sources of data is encouraged.
Thirdly and finally, based on the analyses of the current body of research on gamification in
education and learning, there are a few clear thematic gaps in the existing research. We recommend
future research to expand the scope of affordances implemented in the context of education and to
explore gameful educational solutions incorporating especially more socially and immersion-
oriented affordances. Furthermore, we suggest that future research could seek to focus more on
inducing social interaction with the gamification solutions.
5. Limitations
As noted above, in this review we have included all the literature published under the flag of
gamification. In this paper, we consider the term gamification to act as an umbrella term for various
kinds of gameful solutions in educational and learning context. Thus studies where the term
gamification has not been included are outside the scope of this review. Furthermore, we have not
limited the data in terms of educational level or type of education. In other words, the reviewed
studies contain studies on gamification e.g. in higher education and vocational training as well as
in basic education. This criterion to include all empirical studies exploring gamification in any
educational or learning context is also the most probable reason for the significant difference
between the number of reviewed papers in this and in prior reviews on gamification of education
research.
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Appendix
The full references of the reviewed studies can be found from the online appendix:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/a6gngp4f7xnb8b1/Gamification_of_Education_and_Learning-
Appendix.pdf?dl=0
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... Αυτό που παρατηρήθηκε κατά τη διάρκεια της παρούσας έρευνας είναι ότι η βιβλιογραφία στρέφεται είτε στην παρουσίαση, είτε στην εφαρμογή και αξιολόγηση ενός εργαλείου παιχνιδοποίησης ή ενός παιχνιδιού κάθε φορά μετά από μια διδακτική παρέμβαση. Επιπλέον, υπάρχει πληθώρα βιβλιογραφικών ανασκοπήσεων πάνω στην παιχνιδοποίηση και τη βασισμένη σε παιχνίδια μάθηση (Game Based Learning), ενδεικτικά και μόνο από τους (Caponetto et al., 2014;Hamari & Koivisto, 2014;Majuri et al., 2018;Nah et al., 2014;Subhash & Cudney, 2018), ωστόσο δεν υπάρχει στοχευμένη έρευνα πάνω στην αποτελεσματικότητα της χρήσης συγκεκριμένων εργαλείων ή συνδυασμού αυτών καθ' όλη τη διάρκεια μιας σχολικής χρονιάς, πόσο μάλλον εστιασμένη στο διδακτικό αντικείμενο της βιολογίας. ...
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... On one hand, when utilized in education, both technology and games have good influence on students' psychological and behavioral aspects (Hamari et al., 2014) and can make learning more enjoyable (Fleischmann & Ariel, 2016). These favorable results have increased the popularity of gamification and drawn attention to the educational community (Majuri et al., 2018). Digital-based games, for example, may reduce cognitive load, enhance learning outcomes, and raise student enthusiasm (Hwang et al., 2013;Sánchez-Martín, 2017;Yildirim, 2017;Funa & Ricafort, 2019a). ...
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... Judging from the existing research, the effect of educational games on the cultivation of computational thinking can be determined (e.g, Hwang, Chiu, Chen, 2015;Sung & Hwang, 2013;Kuruvada, Asamoah, Dalal, & Kak, 2010;Zhao & Shute, 2019). Educational games are currently widely used in the education field to meet the needs of users (Gloria, Bellotti, & Berta, 2014), and use game elements such as competition and incentives to motivate and inspire learners (Turan, Avinc, Kara, & Goktas, 2016), thereby promoting the improvement of academic performance (Majuri, Koivisto, & Hamari, 2018). However, in this study, the improvement level of the computational thinking training effect of the East and the West is similar (the Z value of the computational thinking training effect of the East is 2.15, and that of the West is 2.20), and from the perspective of the P value (the p value is both 0.03), the training effect of computational thinking is not significantly improved. ...
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... The use of digital games to support learning through an alternative, more engaging, playful way is growing rapidly both in Europe and worldwide (Majuri et al., 2018). Digital games are a rapidly developing field, and at the same time one of the most popular technologies that young people use to entertain themselves. ...
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