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Abstract

Gamification is emerging as a method aimed at enhancing instructional contents in educational settings. However, theoretical underpinnings of the proposed effects of gamification are lacking. This paper applies the theory of gamified learning and extends research exploring the benefits of gamification on student learning through the testing effect. In a quasi-experimental design, university students (N = 473) prepared for three tests using traditional quizzes (i.e., a question, four response options) or gamified online quizzes (i.e., a wager option, a progress bar, encouraging messages). We assumed that students completing gamified quizzes would complete more quizzes and, through the benefits of the testing effect, would demonstrate better learning. Findings supported the testing effect in that students who completed more quizzes performed better on subsequent tests. Furthermore, students who completed the gamified quizzes had significantly better scores on the first test. However, this effect was not due to students completing more quizzes in the gamification group. Additionally, the beneficial effect of gamification did not persist for subsequent tests. This supports that gamification might work through a novelty effect where its influence may not be sustainable. Further analyses showed that higher achieving students benefited more from gamification than lower achieving students. Overall, the results (a) imply that gamification may be a viable option for short-term assignments, (b) highlight concerns of a novelty effect possibly recommending instructors not to use the same gamification method permanently, and (c) indicate that there are contexts where gamification might not be adequate to target low achieving students. Given these results we call for longitudinal studies investigating the novelty effects of gamification and research examining individual differences moderating the effects of gamification.
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 1
Gamification in the classroom: Examining the impact of gamified quizzes on student learning
Diana R. Sanchez1, Markus Langer2, and Rupinder Kaur1
1San Francisco State University
2Universität des Saarlandes
Diana R. Sanchez and Markus Langer contributed equally to this article and share the first
authorship.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Diana R. Sanchez, 1600
Holloway Avenue; Ethnic Studies & Psychology Building, Room 301; San Francisco, CA 94132
E-mail: SanchezDianaR@sfsu.edu
This preprint version may not exactly replicate the final version published in Computers &
Education. Coypright: Sanchez, D. R., Langer, M., & Kaur, R. (2019). Gamification in the
classroom: Examining the impact of gamified quizzes on student learning. Computers &
Education. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2019.103666. Please note the shared first-authorship of Diana
R. Sanchez and Markus Langer.
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 2
Abstract
Gamification is emerging as a method aimed at enhancing instructional contents in educational
settings. However, theoretical underpinnings of the proposed effects of gamification are lacking.
This paper applies the theory of gamified learning and extends research exploring the benefits of
gamification on student learning through the testing effect. In a quasi-experimental design,
university students (N = 473) prepared for three tests using traditional quizzes (i.e., a question,
four response options) or gamified online quizzes (i.e., a wager option, a progress bar,
encouraging messages). We assumed that students completing gamified quizzes would complete
more quizzes and, through the benefits of the testing effect, would demonstrate better learning.
Findings supported the testing effect in that students who completed more quizzes performed
better on subsequent tests. Furthermore, students who completed the gamified quizzes had
significantly better scores on the first test. However, this effect was not due to students
completing more quizzes in the gamification group. Additionally, the beneficial effect of
gamification did not persist for subsequent tests. This supports that gamification might work
through a novelty effect where its influence may not be sustainable. Further analyses showed that
higher achieving students benefited more from gamification than lower achieving students.
Overall, the results (a) imply that gamification may be a viable option for short-term
assignments, (b) highlight concerns of a novelty effect possibly recommending instructors not to
use the same gamification method permanently, and (c) indicate that there are contexts where
gamification might not be adequate to target low achieving students. Given these results we call
for longitudinal studies investigating the novelty effects of gamification and research examining
individual differences moderating the effects of gamification.
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 3
Keywords: adult learning, improving classroom teaching, media in education, distance
education and telelearning
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 4
The last decades have been hallmarked by rapid growth in technological development
and innovation (Chang & Taylor, 2016). The education industry has capitalized on this trend by
integrating new methods such as virtual collaboration, mobile learning applications, and other
technology enhanced learning programs (Buabeng-Andoh, 2012; Domingo & Garganté, 2016;
Irving et al., 2016; Mayer et al., 2009). Substantial research has explored these alternative
classroom processes that aim to improve student-learning outcomes (Duchi, Hazan, & Singer,
2011; Garrison & Cleveland-Innes, 2005; Herrington, Oliver, & Reeves, 2003; Means, 2010;
Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, & Jones, 2009; Richardson & Swan, 2003; Sandholtz, 1997).
This influx of research has included growing interest in alternative classroom structures such as
augmented classrooms and blended learning (Barkley, Cross, & Major, 2014; Bonk & Graham,
2012; Kim, Kim, Khera, & Getman, 2014). However, restructuring classes is not always possible
due to logistical issues and limited resources. Educators therefore often search for alternative
changes that can be easily implemented in order to improve learning. Gamification is one of
these changes that may present itself as a useful, cost-effective, and efficient tool for educators to
improve learning outcomes (Oprescu, Jones, & Katsikitis, 2014; Rowland, 2014).
Gamification refers to the use of game-design elements (e.g., points) and game
characteristics (e.g., assessment, challenge) (for an overview see e.g. Bedwell, Pavlas, Heyne,
Lazzara, & Salas, 2012) in non-game contexts in an attempt to achieve positive outcomes (e.g.,
enhance student learning) (Deterding, Khaled, Nacke & Dixon, 2011). Given the implicit belief
that games are enjoyable (Von Ahn & Dabbish, 2008), many instructors have integrated
gamification into the classroom and researchers have studied the impact of gamification on
classroom learning (e.g., Boticki, Baksa, Seow, & Looi, 2015; Hamari et al. 2016; Mekler,
Brühlmann, Tuch, & Opwis, 2017).
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 5
Despite the widespread application and burgeoning research on gamification, the effects
of gamification, its theoretical and psychological underpinnings, and individual differences that
may affect gamification still lack understanding (Landers, Auer, Collmus, & Armstrong, 2018;
Landers & Callan, 2011). To overcome this limitation, Landers (2014) introduced the theory of
gamified learning in an attempt to provide research on learning through gamification with a
theoretical foundation. He proposed that gamification can only benefit learning indirectly by
improving already beneficial instructional content. Yet, there is still a lack of studies using this
theoretical framework (or other theoretical frameworks, see e.g., Landers & Armstrong, 2017)
when building a theoretical foundation on how gamification should affect learning (Landers et
al., 2018; see Landers & Landers, 2014 as an exception). Furthermore, there is growing evidence
that individual differences such as gender (Koivisto & Hamari, 2014) or video game experience
(Landers & Armstrong, 2017) can affect benefits from gamification, calling for research
exploring these moderating effects, especially in educational settings.
Therefore, the current study aims to enhance the understanding of the circumstances
under which gamification can improve learning outcomes (e.g., Koivisto & Hamari, 2014;
Landers, Bauer, & Callan, 2017; Sailer, Hense, Mayr, & Mandl, 2017) by building on the theory
of gamified learning (Landers, 2014) and the well-established educational benefits of the testing
effect (i.e. the effect that testing can enhance learning through the cognitive process of recalling
information; Baird, 1985; Rowland, 2014). Specifically, following the propositions of the theory
of gamified learning, gamification (i.e., the addition of game elements, in our case a wager
option, a progress bar, and encouraging messages, all adding the game characteristics assessment
and goals/rules from Bedwell et al., 2012 to the quizzes) may have the potential to enhance the
testing effect. We postulate that students might engage in more preparational quizzes when game
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 6
elements are added (cf., Landers & Landers, 2014). Furthermore, we investigate the potential
moderating effect of one of the most important individual differences in the educational context:
student achievement (Richardson, Abraham, & Bond, 2012).
Thus, the goals of this study are to (a) apply the theory of gamified learning as a
theoretical model for the assumed effects of gamification, (b) replicate the testing effect in a
web-based learning environment, (c) test if gamification can enhance the testing effect, and (d)
determine if there are student characteristics that affect the effects of gamification. Therefore, the
current study aims to contribute to research showing the value of the theory of gamified learning
for developing theoretical models for the effects of gamification (see also Landers & Landers,
2014). This study also provides instructors with insights on the potential effects of gamification
within the setting of online quizzes and shows that instructors need to be aware of student
characteristics that may moderate the effects of gamification.
1. Theoretical Background
1.1 Technology and learning
The integration of technology into our daily lives has reached the classroom as instructors
utilize new technological resources to aid classroom instruction (Green & Hannon, 2007).
Students can work collaboratively on online projects, discuss lectures using online forums, watch
videos embedded into an instructor’s lecture notes (Narciss, Proske, & Koerndle, 2007), or use a
combination of the aforementioned approaches within social network sites developed for
learning purposes (Landers & Callan, 2011). Technology can enhance learning through several
processes such as providing students with instant feedback, making additional resources readily
available, or allowing them to practice their skills at their own pace and test their own knowledge
(Sitzmann, Kraiger, Stewart, & Wisher, 2006).
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 7
This study explores the use of technology through quizzes presented to students in an
online learning management system. In these self-paced online quizzes, students can test their
knowledge on the respective learning module and receive feedback about their performance. We
compare two courses that used these online quizzes, where students in one of the courses
received a gamified version of these quizzes. We propose that gamification of these quizzes will
lead to better learning outcomes. In order to develop a theoretical model that underlies the effects
of the instructional design within the current study, we build upon the theory of gamified
learning (Landers, 2014). Following, we will introduce the theory of gamified learning and
ground our assumptions and hypotheses on its propositions. Specifically, we argue that (a)
completing online quizzes will lead to better learning outcomes, (b) students will complete more
online quizzes when the quizzes are gamified which will (c) consequently lead to better learning
outcomes. Furthermore, we will examine if student achievement, known to be related to
students’ effort regulation (Richardson et al., 2012), will affect the benefits from gamification.
Figure 1 shows the underlying theoretical model of this study, which is based on the theory of
gamified learning and which includes its propositions and our hypotheses that will be tested
during this study.
1.2 The theory of gamified learning
Gamification is defined as the integration of game elements into non-game environments
(Dicheva, Dichev, Agre, & Angelova, 2015). For instance, Landers and Callan (2011) developed
a social network site for student learning where students could discuss learning issues and share
learning experiences. Especially important for the current study, they introduced gamified online
quizzes in an attempt to encourage students to learn the instructional contents from these quizzes.
Students who completed these optional quizzes could receive badges and level-ups when
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 8
successfully completing quizzes (i.e., badges and leveling-up were the game elements). As a
result of their study, they found that most students enjoyed the additional learning opportunity
through gamified quizzes.
The study by Landers and Callan is an example of how to use technology and
gamification within learning contexts and is a call for structured attempts to investigate the
impact of gamification on student learning. For instance, they assumed that gamification would
encourage students complete the online quizzes. However, they did not compare the gamified
version of the quizzes to a non-gamified version, thus it remained unclear if gamification led to
higher student engagement or to actual learning benefits.
Three years after the study by Landers and Callan, Landers (2014) introduced the theory
of gamified learning as an important milestone, aiding subsequent studies approach research on
gamification in a structured manner (see for instance Landers & Landers, 2014 investigation of
the influence leaderboards have on student engagement and testing of the theory of gamified
learning). The core idea behind this theory is that gamification can improve existing instructional
content either through a moderation or a mediation process. There are five propositions of the
theory of gamified learning, four of which have to be met in cases where gamification influences
learning outcomes through a mediating process as we expect in the current study
1
: “Instructional
content influences learning outcomes and behaviors (original Proposition 1); behaviors/attitudes
influence learning (original Proposition 2); game characteristics influence changes in
behavior/attitudes (original Proposition 3); the relationship between game elements and learning
outcomes is mediated by behaviors/attitudes (original Proposition 5)” (Landers, 2014, p. 760-
1
Note, that we left out original proposition 4 of the theory of gamified learning (Landers, 2014) which states that
“Game elements affect behaviors/attitudes that moderate instructional effectiveness” (Landers 2014, p. 761) as we
do not postulate a moderating effect of the game elements on instructional effectiveness.
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 9
762; the theory of gamified learning and these propositions are displayed in Figure 1).
Following, we will first explain the terms from the theory of gamified learning in the context of
the current study, introduce the aforementioned propositions, and connect them to the hypotheses
of the current study.
1.2.1 Clarification of terms
The theory of gamified learning includes four main terms: instructional content, game
characteristics, behavior/attitudes, and learning outcomes. First, instructional content is defined
as the instructions instructors use to educate students and facilitate student understanding
(Reigeluth, 1983). In the current study, online quizzes constitute the instructional content that is
meant to help students improve their declarative knowledge. Second, game characteristics are the
game elements used to gamify the instructional content. Bedwell et al. (2012) introduced a
framework of nine game characteristics that organizes game elements into categories. Using this
taxonomy, the current study applies the game characteristics rules/goals (i.e., allowing students
to wager points for a hint on the correct answer to a quiz question) and assessment (i.e., by
showing students a progress bar of earned and possible points for a quiz, and by providing an
encouraging message with their final score). Third, behavior/attitude refers to behaviors and
attitudes affected by the instructional content and the game characteristics. In the current study,
the instructional content and game characteristics will most likely affect completing online
quizzes (behavior) reflecting student engagement with the quizzes (attitude) (cf., Landers &
Landers, 2014). Finally, the main outcome in the theory of gamified learning are learning
outcomes. In the case of our study, students will learn the content of the course which will be
demonstrated by higher scores in three declarative knowledge tests given throughout the course.
1.2.2 Quizzes affect learning
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 10
In the first proposition of the theory of gamified learning, Landers stated that if
gamification aims to be successful it must be certain that the instructional content influences
learning outcomes and behaviors” (Landers, 2014, p. 760). In other words, if students do not
benefit from the instructional content, there is no benefit in gamifying it. Translated to the
current study, this means it is a precondition of potential benefits of gamification that providing
quizzes already aids student learning.
The effect that quizzes and tests can improve student learning is known as the testing
effect (see Rowland, 2014 for a meta-analysis). Similar terms include “retrieval practice” or
“test-enhanced learning”, which refer to the increased retention of learned knowledge and/or
skills by retrieving material through testing (Larsen, 2013). Numerous studies have been
conducted to examine and confirm the testing effect in experimental settings (e.g. Jensen,
McDaniel, Woodard, & Kummer, 2014; Johnson & Mayer, 2009; McDaniel, Agarwal, Huelser,
McDermott, & Roediger, 2011; McDaniel, Anderson, Derbish, & Morrisette, 2007). Educators
have also applied this concept to the classroom to determine if various practices can improve
student learning (Carpenter, 2012; Rowland, 2014; Vojdanoska, Cranney, & Newell, 2010). The
literature predominantly supports that the testing effect benefits students by increasing learning
and retention (Bangert-Drowns, Kulik, & Kulik, 1991; McDaniel, Roediger, & McDermott,
2007; Rowland, 2014). Its effectiveness is attributed to more effortful retrieval (e.g., compared to
repeatedly reading through learning materials; Rowland, 2014), the strengthening of neural
pathways, and increasing the number of neurological connections, which makes the recalled
information more accessible (Carpenter & Delosh, 2006). For instance, Wing, Marsh, and
Cabeza (2013) examined brain activities when utilizing the testing effect and found that testing
contributed to future memory success and was associated with different brain activity in
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 11
comparison to traditional studying of learning material. An fMRI analysis revealed activation of
brain areas, such as the anterior hippocampus and lateral temporal cortices, suggesting that the
testing effect uniquely activates certain neural pathways. Additionally, Wheeler and Roediger
(1992) found improved retention of information after repeated retrieval of that information in
comparison to little or no retrieval. These results demonstrate that increased retrieval of
information leads to deeper processing and improved retention results, which constitutes the
testing effect.
Regarding proposition 1 of the theory of gamified learning, previous research supports
that quizzes can be effective as instructional content. In other words, we assume that the
guidelines of proposition 1 are met within our research model because the instructional content
of providing students with quizzes builds on the strongly supported testing effect.
1.2.3 More quizzes improve learning outcomes
The second proposition from the theory of gamified learning by Landers is that
“behaviors/attitudes influence learning” (Landers, 2014, p. 760). In the case of the current study,
students had the opportunity to complete online quizzes in exchange for course credit and to
deepen their understanding of course content. According to previous research, students
completing (more) quizzes will have improved learning which will lead to better performance in
subsequent tests (Kling, McCorkle, Miller & Reardon, 2005; McDaniel et al., 2011; McDaniel et
al., 2007). This means that completing online quizzes affects learning outcomes positively, thus
students who complete more quizzes may show better learning outcomes. The current study will
replicate the testing effect through online quizzes to (a) increase confidence that our sample is
representative of the general population (b) support the testing effect in technology-based
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 12
settings, and (c) support proposition 2 of the theory of gamified learning within our research
model. Therefore, our first hypothesis is as follows:
Hypothesis 1: There will be a significant relationship between the number of quizzes students
completed and students test scores (for Test A, Test B, and Test C).
1.2.4 Gamification leads to completing more quizzes
Proposition 3 from the theory of gamified learning by Landers is that “game
characteristics influence changes in behavior/attitudes” (Landers, 2014, p. 761). While the term
“gamification” has relatively new applications in the research literature, the idea of using game
mechanics to engage students and other audiences has a long-standing history (e.g. Harvey,
1970). This strategy has been used in a number of applications by the military, philosophers, and
researchers (Zichermann & Cunningham, 2011). Gamification is used in many contexts, such as
survey (Wells, 2016) and mobile applications development (Lister, West, Cannon, Sax, &
Brodegard, 2014). It has also been used in workplace contexts (Singh, 2012), for example to
prepare applicants for job interviews (e.g., Langer, König, Gebhard, & André, 2016; Gebhard et
al. 2018), for employee selection (Oprescu et al., 2014; Armstrong, Landers, & Collmus, 2016),
and to train employees (Cornelissen et al., 2013; Di Bitonto, Corriero, Pesare, Rossano, &
Roselli, 2014). Most important for the current study is the application of gamification to train
working memory (Farcas, Szamosközi, & Takacs, 2016), within online educational courses
(Chang & Wei, 2016), in order to engage students (Landers & Landers, 2014), and in further
educational environments (Canhoto & Murphy, 2016) supporting the potential value and
practical relevance of gamification for learning. We focus on the possible effects of gamification
on student engagement as this is most likely to relate to the benefits of gamification on the
testing effect.
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 13
1.2.5 Student engagement
Because there are variations in the definition and application of the term engagement, we
clarify for this study that engagement is students allocation of resources and energy to the
quizzes (Rich, Lepine, & Crawford, 2010). Note that during data collection there was no
opportunity to directly observe or measure student engagement during the quizzes, therefore the
current study uses voluntary task re-engagement as an indicator of engagement (cf., Ryan,
Koestner, & Deci, 1991). Previous definitions and studies have interpreted voluntarily re-
engagement in an activity without specific instructions during a period of free-choice to
demonstrate intrinsic motivation and engagement (Ryan et al., 1991). We assume that students
who complete more quizzes voluntarily are more engaged in the task because they will choose to
re-engage in the task without specific instructions to do so.
Gamification is often aimed at benefiting learning by increasing engagement in a task
(Brull & Finlayson, 2016). For instance, Landers and Landers (2014) used leaderboards to
engage students to work on an online wiki. They found that through leaderboards which, similar
to the gamification elements of the current study, relied on the game characteristics assessment
(students could see how many tasks they fulfilled) and rules/goals (students could see which
tasks they need to fulfill to receive points to climb the leaderboard) students spent more time on
developing the online wiki than in a control group without a leaderboard. In the current study,
the gamified version of the online quizzes includes game elements based on the same game
characteristics (i.e., assessment and rules/goals). Specifically, there are three game elements
within this study which focus on the game characteristics assessment and rules/goals that have
engaging potential: a progress bar, encouraging messages, and the possibility to wager points for
a hint.
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 14
The first game element included in the quizzes is a progress bar. Potential benefits and
gamification aspects of progress bars have been discussed in previous research (Dicheva et al.,
2015; Zichermann & Cunningham, 2011). The progress bar in this study displayed students’
current points as a dark shaded section and potential points as a lightly shaded section of what
they could earn if they answered the current question correctly. Progress bars show individuals
how far they have already come and creating an incentive to reach a 100% completion (i.e., a full
progress bar). This falls under the game characteristics assessment and rules/goals as defined by
Bedwell et al., (2012) because it is providing feedback to the individual to assess their own
performance and presents them their goal explicitly (i.e., a full progress bar reflects the goal).
The progress bar might engage students as it generates a sense of closeness to the points and the
goal (cf., Dicheva, Irwin, Dichev, & Talasila, 2014) as well as a mastery experience that might
grow the more students proceed within the progress bar (Dicheva et al., 2015).
The second game element is an encouraging message displayed at the end of the quiz.
This feature urges students who earned partial credit to try again for full credit, congratulates
students who earned full credit, and reminds them that they can continue taking the quiz to
prepare for the upcoming test. Encouraging messages correspond to the game characteristic
assessment. They give students feedback while also reminding them of the benefits of returning
to the quiz. Similar encouraging messages have been addressed in previous research. For
example, Zichermann and Cunningham (2011) discuss games such as QuantaPet which
encourages players to return to the game through incentivized behavior such as taking care of
digital bets. Encouraging messages are also often added to mobile applications because they are
believed to keep users returning to the application. For instance, the application “Duolingo” is
intended to improve foreign language skills and promote users returning to the app with several
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 15
gamification techniques (e.g., points, badges for achievements, content unlocking). This specific
app also uses encouraging messages to congratulate learners and to remind them to keep up the
good work. This feature might engage learners by appealing to their need for achievement and
furthermore provides positive feedback on the effort students make to take a quiz. Based on
previous research, there is an understanding that positive feedback and encouraging messages
can lead to positive experiences, motivation (Koka & Hein, 2003) and improved learning in an
activity (Goh, Seet, & Chen, 2012). Additionally, by encouraging students to take the quiz again,
it should appeal to student’s desire to reach a score of 100% or be prepared for the next test.
The third game element is a wager option where students could select an icon of a
magnifying glass labeled as hint. They would wager ½ point to reduce the response options from
four to two, giving them a 50/50 chance of selecting the correct answer. Research on betting and
wagering usually explores the less savory aspects of addiction and gambling (e.g., Gray,
LaPlante, & Shaffer, 2012). However, educators may acknowledge the addictive properties of
gamification as a desirable feature they would wish to capture and utilize to engage students
towards returning to the learning experience (Garris, Ahlers, & Driskell, 2002). Although it has
been discussed briefly in other articles (e.g., Coccoli, Iacono, & Vercelli, 2015), little research
has been done on how wagering and betting features impact learning through gamified
experiences. The wager option is part of the rules/goals characteristic that tells individuals about
the parameters within the learning activity that reward them with points. In addition, it also gives
the player more control of the activity and the potential outcome. Research has shown that
individuals carefully consider the perceived risks and benefits of a situation when presented with
these options. Given that the hint option would reduce the risk of selecting an incorrect answer
but also reduce the benefit through only receiving half a point for a correct answer, students
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 16
would need to weigh these options carefully (Kahneman & Tversky, 1984). In order to achieve
the highest scores, students’ goal should be to try to find the correct answer independently of the
hints. In the first quizzes, students might still use the hints but with every new try, students who
want to receive high scores should be motivated to not use the hints any more. The process of
maturing from using these hints may encourage students to complete the quizzes several times
and it could reflect learning progress, as well as an engaging experience as students realize that
they do not need the hints any more. In sum, including the wager option could encourage the
students to complete more quizzes because completing the gamified quizzes may lead to (a)
motivation to beat their own high score, (b) a sense of achievement, and (c) a better perception of
the learning progress.
Overall, providing students with encouraging messages provides positive feedback and
should encourage students to return to the task to improve their results. Visually tracking points
with the progress bar may create a sense of closeness to their goals as well as a mastery
experience on their way to the learning goal (cf., Dicheva et al., 2015). Allowing students to
wager points for hints could create a sense of control as well as encourage students to improve
by not needing the hint option any more. These may all create a gamified experience for students
and engage them to complete the quizzes.
1.2.6 Gamification affects learning outcomes through completing quizzes
The last proposition from the theory of gamified learning by Landers is that “the
relationship between game elements and learning outcomes is mediated by behaviors/attitudes
(Landers, 2014, p. 762). One primary purpose of this study is to understand if gamification can
enhance the benefits of the testing effect. Our intention is to expand existing literature on a
media enhanced testing effect (e.g., Johnson & Mayer, 2009) and to explore a specific type of
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 17
media enhancement gamification. There is reason to believe that the concept of gamification
could positively increase the impact of the testing effect as gamification is believed to function
through factors such as student engagement (Su & Cheng, 2015). According to Landers theory
of gamified learning (2014) and results from Landers and Landers (2014), gamification can
affect students’ motivation to invest in learning. In the current study, this could mean that
gamifying quizzes will lead to more student engagement when completing the quizzes (i.e.,
students will take more quizzes when the quiz is gamified; which would support proposition 3
from the theory of gamified learning) which may lead to better learning outcomes (i.e.,
performance in tests on the same learning content). In other words, we predict that gamification
leads to students being more motivated and engaged to fulfill online quizzes which consequently
leads to better learning through the learning mechanisms of the testing effect (which would
support proposition 5 of the theory of gamified learning) (cf., Kling et al., 2005; McDaniel et al.,
2007; McDaniel et al., 2011). We thus propose:
Hypotheses 2: The positive effect of gamification on test scores (Test A, B, and C) will be
mediated by the number of Quizzes Completed.
1.3 Student abilities moderating the effects of gamification
As a further step of our data analysis we investigated the moderated-mediation model
displayed in the model in Figure 2. The mediation part of these models is based on the potential
effect of the gamified quiz format on the number of Quizzes Completed (i.e., Hypothesis 2).
Furthermore, it might be possible that individual differences affect the influences of gamification
on student behavior or learning outcomes. For instance, Orvis, Horn, & Belanich (2009) found
that game self-efficacy and goal orientation affected learning from a game and Landers et al.
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 18
(2017) investigated the role of goal-commitment when using the game element leaderboards to
affect task performance.
In educational contexts, one of the most important individual differences that may affect
the outcomes of gamification is students’ ability to study, which previous research commonly
measured using students’ academic achievement (Richardson et al., 2012; Zimmerman, Bandura,
& Martinez-Pons, 1992). In the current study, academic achievement is reflected by students’
overall course grade. Richardson et al. (2012) showed in their meta-analysis that students’
academic achievement relates to their academic self-efficacy and effort regulation. The latter
variable might especially influence the assumed effects of our gamification approach on students
as it is closely tied to students’ motivation and persistence in academic tasks such as seriously
investing in given instructional content (e.g. online quizzes) (Richardson et al., 2012). Therefore,
students abilities may affect the relationships between the gamified quiz format and test scores,
gamification and the number of Quizzes Completed, as well as the number of Quizzes
Completed and test scores. The moderation in Figure 2 investigates the aforementioned
assumptions. First, it may be that higher achieving students are more (or less) engaged by the
gamified quiz format and in the end complete more (or less) quizzes than lower achieving
students who may be less (or more) affected by the gamified quiz format. Second, it could be
that higher achieving students benefit more (or less) from completing more quizzes, which would
affect the relationship between the number of Quizzes Completed and the test scores. Third, it
might also be that the gamified quiz format affects higher achieving students test scores more
directly or through variables that were not captured in this study, which would affect the direct
effect of the quiz format on test scores.
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 19
Exploratory Hypothesis 3: Student’s course grades may moderate the relationships between the
quiz format and the number of Quizzes Completed, between number of Quizzes Completed and
test scores, and between the quiz format and test scores.
2. Method
2.1 Participants
Information was collected from an archival dataset from the psychology department at a
Western University. The dataset contained information from two consecutive semesters of
students enrolled in an introductory psychology course. Due to the limitations of using an
archival dataset, demographic information was limited to gender, year in school, and major. The
total sample consisted of 473 students (i.e., 316 completed the traditional quiz and 157
completed the gamified quiz). This data was collected using archival resources across classes of
students taking the same course. Using archival data made random assignment to the two Quiz
Formats impossible, which is why this study is based on a quasi-experimental design. Thus,
students in the same class were assigned to the same Quiz Format (i.e., data using the traditional
quiz was collected from two classes of students and data for the gamified quiz was collected
from the third class of students). This resulted in an uneven distribution of participants in the two
conditions, with two thirds of the sample assigned to the traditional quiz. Students represented
over 50 different majors, the majority reporting an undeclared major 22%, followed by 13% in
Health and Exercise, 10% in Business Administration, and 6% in Biological Science. In the
traditional quiz group, there were 51.3% males compared to 54.8% males in the gamified quiz
group which constitutes no significant difference in the gender distribution, χ2(1) = 0.51, p = .47.
Regarding year at the college, in the traditional quiz group, there were 21.8% freshman, 50.3%
sophomores, 16.8% juniors, and 11.1% seniors compared to 63.1% freshman, 22.9%
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 20
sophomores, 9.6% juniors and 7% seniors in the gamified group which is a significantly different
distribution regarding year at the college, χ2(1) = 78.24, p = .01.
2.2 Procedures
The course included three tests across the semester (i.e., Test A, Test B, and Test C).
Note that previous research implied that there might be a novelty effect when using gamification
(Hamari, Koivisto, & Sarsa, 2014). Specifically, there are previous findings where the engaging
and beneficial effects of gamification dissipate over time (Koivisto & Hamari, 2014). The
longitudinal design of our data (i.e., a series of three tests students take over a semester) allows
to observe if and at what point in time the effects of gamification diminish over time which could
indicate a novelty effect. Each test covered material from multiple chapters of content. For each
content chapter, students first read the chapter and could complete online quizzes on the content.
Students then received a lecture on the content. Both semesters were identical (i.e., with the same
instructor, textbook, lectures, resources, and tests). The only controlled difference between the
two semesters was the format of the online quizzes that was given to the students, described
below. At the end of the semester, student information, quiz scores, test scores, and final course
grades were collected.
2.3 Online quizzes
During the semester, students were invited to complete a series of online quizzes (in total
34 quizzes) each containing five multiple-choice questions drawn from a pool of questions on the
respective topic. The number of multiple-choice questions in each pool varied with the total
number of 775 multiple-choice questions across all the topics. Quizzes for both experimental
conditions used the same question prompt and four response options. There was only one correct
answer for each question and students were given instructions that the quizzes were untimed and
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 21
open-book. After submitting a response, students were given feedback on whether or not the
response was correct and what the correct answer was before moving on to the next question.
Course credit was awarded to students for completing the quizzes. This was intended to
incentivize students to complete the quizzes. The points earned in the quiz directly translated to
points in the class, which were applied towards the final grade. Because each quiz had five
questions, students could earn up to five points for each quiz if they answered all of the questions
correctly. If a student only answered four of the five questions correctly, they only earned four
points towards their grade. Quizzes could be taken an unlimited number of times; however, only
the highest score a student earned across all attempts of a single quiz was recorded towards their
final grade. Therefore, even if a student earned full credit of five points right away, there was
still an incentive to continue taking the quizzes to help prepare for the upcoming tests.
2.4 Quiz format
The two quizzes only differed in their format. The traditional quiz presented the question,
the response options, and a next button. After each question feedback was given. At the end of
the quiz a final score was provided, showing how many points the student earned out of the
possible five points. The gamified quiz format added three game elements. The first was a
progress bar. At the beginning of each question a faded section would be added to the progress
bar displaying the potential points a student could earn for answering the question correctly. If
the student answered the question correctly, the color would fade-in, demonstrating they earned
the points for that question. With an incorrect answer the potential points faded-away from the
progress bar. The second element of the gamified quizzes was a wager option. In the gamified
quiz students saw the image of a magnifying glass in the top right corner with the word “Hint”
next to it. If students clicked this button the system would ask them if they would like a hint;
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 22
offering to take away two of the possible response options for reduced points. If students
accepted the hint, two of the four response options were removed and the section of the faded
progress bar reduced, decreasing the worth of the question to ½ of the points if answered
correctly. The third feature of the gamified quizzes was an encouraging message that students
received at the end of the quiz. Upon completion of the last question, students saw one of two
messages. If student answered one or more of the questions incorrectly, the message encouraged
them to try the quiz again to try and reach 100%. If the student answered all five questions
correctly, the message congratulated them and encouraged them to return to the quiz to keep
practicing for the upcoming test.
2.5 Measures
2.5.1 Test scores. Students were given three tests during the course. Each test was given
across the 16-week semester. Test A was given during week five, Text B during week eight and
Test C during week 13. Each test consisted of 55 multiple-choice questions with four response
options and one correct answer. All of the test questions were selected from a large pool of
questions using item statistics (Findley, Keever, Chappelka, Eakes, & Gilliam, 1996) gathered
from a previous semester. Test scores are used as a measure for student learning since students
who learned more from the quizzes would perform better in these tests.
2.5.2 Number of Quizzes Completed. Students had the opportunity to complete quizzes
on each topic area for the course. Every time a student completed a quiz, this increased the
number of Quizzes Completed for this student. The total number of Quizzes Completed for each
student were summed up separately for quizzes before Test A, B, and C.
2.5.3 Course grade. All students received a cumulative grade for the class at the end of
the course which encapsulated their performance across the semester. The Course Grade
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 23
included scores from students for other assignments in the class (e.g., research papers, thought
papers). Scores from Test A, Test B, and Test C, as well as scores for all of the quizzes, were
removed from the calculation of the Course Grade. Course Grade should therefore be a proxy
measure for student achievement and their general capabilities to study at a university.
2.6 Additional analyses
In order to test the moderated-mediation model in Figure 2, we used the PROCESS
macro for SPSS (Hayes, 2015). For every test, we included the respective number of Quizzes
Completed (e.g., number of Quizzes Completed related to Test A) as the mediator and the
students Course Grade as the moderator for the relation between Quiz Format and number of
Quizzes Completed, number of Quizzes Completed and Test Scores (i.e., Test A, Test B, and
Test C), and for the direct effect of the Quiz Format on Test Scores. The outcome variable was
the respective Test Score. With PROCESS it is possible to evaluate mediation and moderation
effects step-wise (for a detailed description see Hayes, 2015). First, PROCESS provides an
output for the effect of the independent variable onto the mediator variable including the
moderator effect displayed as the interaction between the independent variable and the moderator
(in our case Quiz Format x Course Grade). Second, it offers an output indicating whether the
mediating variable impacts the outcome under the condition that the independent variable is also
included in the regression model. In this overall model it includes the interaction effects of the
mediator and the moderator (in our case number of Quizzes Completed x Course Grade) and the
interaction of the independent variable and the moderator. Third, PROCESS provides bias-
corrected bootstrapped estimates of the confidence intervals for the conditional direct effect. In
the given case, this means that it calculates the direct effect of the Quiz Format on the Test
Scores for students at the mean of the moderator Course Grade and one standard deviation above
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 24
(higher achieving students) and below the mean (lower achieving students). Simultaneously, it
also provides the conditional indirect effects. In our case these are the effects of the Quiz Format
on Test Scores mediated by number of Quizzes Completed at the mean of the moderator Course
Grade and one standard deviation above and below the mean. To be clear, if the confidence
intervals do not include zero, this indicates significant direct or indirect effects of the
independent variable on the outcome on a given level of the moderator.
3. Results
Correlations between the study variables as well as descriptives are provided in Table 1.
Hypothesis 1 proposed that there will be a significant relationship between the number of
quizzes a student completed and the student’s Test Scores. Our results support Hypothesis 1
showing that students who completed more quizzes performed significantly better than students
who completed fewer quizzes; Test A, F(1,453) = 3.85, p = .001, partial η2 = .05, Test B,
F(1,443) = 6.81, p < .001, partial η2 = .09, and Test C F(1,436) = 1.94, p < .05, partial η2 = .05.
Hypothesis 2 stated that the positive effect of gamification on Test Scores will be
mediated by the numbers of Quizzes Completed. As a first step to examine this hypothesis, we
conducted ANOVAs to reveal if there were differences between the two Quiz Formats on the
Test Scores. For Test A, students who completed the gamified quizzes (M = 80.27, SD = 14.32)
had significantly higher scores compared to students who completed the traditional quizzes (M =
77.69, SD = 12.19), F(1,453) = 4.03, p < .05, partial η2 = .01. However, the test scores were not
significantly different for both remaining tests; Test B gamified quizzes (M = 71.91, SD = 14.07)
and traditional quizzes (M = 74.06, SD = 12.18), F(1,443) = 1.29, p = .26, partial η2 = .003 and
Test C, gamified quizzes (M = 70.31, SD = 13.84) and traditional quizzes (M = 71.66, SD =
13.05), F(1,436) = 3.40, p = .07, partial η2 = .008.
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 25
We continued to examine Hypothesis 2 using PROCESS. As this study is based on a
quasi-experimental design, we dummy-coded participants’ year of study and included it as a
covariate in addition to participants’ gender into the PROCESS analyses. These results differed
from the model without any covariates only in numerical terms but not in terms of significance
and interpretation of the results. For the sake of simplicity, we therefore present the results
without any covariates.
2
Results of the moderated-mediation analyses testing the model in Figure
1 are presented in Table 2, Table 3, and Figure 3. In contrast to what we proposed in Hypothesis
2 (that gamification will positively affect Test Scores through students’ taking more quizzes),
results imply that gamification had a negative effect on the number of Quizzes Completed for
Test A. This means that students who completed the gamified quizzes completed fewer quizzes
in preparation of Test A than students assigned to the traditional quizzes. However, students who
took the gamified quizzes outperformed the students in the other group regarding Test A. For the
other tests there was neither a positive nor a negative effect of gamification on Test Scores
through the number of Quizzes Completed. Therefore, there was no support for Hypothesis 2.
In exploratory Hypothesis 3 we proposed that student’s Course Grades may moderate the
relationship between the Quiz Format and the number of Quizzes Completed, number of Quizzes
Completed and Test Scores, as well as the relation between the Quiz Format and Test Scores.
The most robust result was found for the conditional direct effect of Quiz Format on Test Scores.
Table 2 shows that for all analyses of the complete models (i.e., complete Model Test A, Test B
and Test C), the interaction between the Quiz Format and the Course Grade is significant which
is a first indicator for a moderation effect. This effect is further supported by Table 3 which
shows that for Test A, B, and C, the direct positive effects of gamification on the Test Scores
2
The results including covariates can be made available on request.
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 26
were only significant for students with a medium and a high Course Grade (indicated by the
confidence intervals not including zero for students with medium and high Course Grades). This
implies that Course Grade moderated the direct effect of the Quiz Format on the Test Scores. In
other words, this indicates that students with lower Course Grades did not benefit directly from
the gamification of the quizzes in regard of their Test Scores, whereas students with average and
high Course Grades did. These results are displayed in Figure 3.
There were no consistent findings regarding the interaction of the Quiz Format and the
Course Grade in the models testing the effect of the Quiz Format on the number of Quizzes
Completed. This means that Course Grade did not moderate the effect of the Quiz Format on the
number of Quizzes Completed (i.e., gamification did not have a different effect on the number of
Quizzes Completed for higher and lower achieving students). Similar results were found for the
complete models testing the effect of the number of Quizzes Completed on the Test Scores, as
there were no interactions of the number of Quizzes Completed and the Course Grade. This
implies that Course Grade did not moderate the effect of number of Quizzes Completed on the
test scores (i.e., number of Quizzes Completed did not have a different effect on Test Scores for
higher and lower achieving students).
4. Discussion
In this study we applied the theory of gamified learning to structure our approach in
understanding gamified quizzes in an educational setting. In this comparison students completed
gamified or traditional online quizzes in preparation for class tests. The goals were to replicate
the testing effect in an online environment, test if gamification can enhance the testing effect,
and to determine if there are student characteristics that affect the effects of gamification. The
results show that the testing effect has a robust effect on learning through online quizzes, that
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 27
gamification did not enhance the testing effect, and that student abilities can impact outcomes of
gamification.
First, we were able to replicate the testing effect supporting that our sample does hold to
previous research findings (Rowland, 2014). The more quizzes a student took regardless of the
Quiz Format, the better they did on the individual tests throughout the semester. This finding
supports the positive implications of the testing effect on student learning (see e.g. Jensen et al.,
2014; Johnson & Mayer, 2009) and provides further support that the testing effect works in
online settings.
Furthermore, we found that there was a direct effect of gamification on the Test Scores
for the initial test (i.e., Test A) but not for subsequent tests (i.e., Test B, and C). We explicitly
examined the effects of gamification for learning on the three tests over the course of the
semesters (instead of combining all test scores into one overall score), as this made it possible to
examine if the beneficial effects of gamification might wear off over time. This way, the current
findings respond to calls for research investigating possible novelty effects of gamification
through longitudinal designs providing additional empirical evidence for the previously stated
concerns raised by other researchers that the primary benefit of gamification may be a novelty
effect that wears off over time (Hamari et al., 2014). One possible explanation for this effect is
that perceived enjoyment and usefulness of a gamified activity diminishes (see also Hamari et
al., 2014), which might affect benefits from a gamified activity. Supporting this explanation,
Hamari and colleagues (2014) examined 24 studies and found a general positive effect of
gamification on learner behavior and psychological outcomes (e.g., motivation). However, they
stressed that some of the positive effects may have been due to a novelty effect rather than the
long-term success of gamification and affirmed the possible presence of the novelty effect in one
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 28
of their follow-up studies (Koivisto & Hamari, 2014). They found that perceived enjoyment and
usefulness of gamification declined with use and suggested that a novelty effect caused the initial
benefits of gamification. An important implication following this discussion and the findings of
the current study is that gamification might be a short-time impulse rather than an effective tool
for sustainable changes in pedagogical environments (Koivisto & Hamari, 2014). Moreover, the
current results contribute to the discussion on novelty effects as they indicate that there are
circumstances where the novelty effect already wears off after a short time-span and show that a
potential novelty effect might especially affect proposition 3 of the theory of gamified learning
(i.e., “game characteristics influence changes in behavior/attitudes”; Landers, 2014, p. 761).
In contrast to our theoretical assumptions, gamification did not positively impact the
number of Quizzes Completed. Following Landers (2014) and Landers et al. (2017) (who
engaged students through leaderboards) this could have been one way gamification improves
learning; through more student engagement which might have benefitted the testing effect. In the
theoretical background, we showed that our version of gamification includes game elements
based on the same game characteristics like the leaderboards used by Landers and Landers
(2014). Specifically, the game elements of the current study also reflected the game
characteristics assessment and rules/goals. Accordingly, we assumed that our game elements
should lead to students completing more quizzes reflecting increases in student engagement.
However, additionally to assessment and rules/goals, leaderboards also include the game
characteristic conflict/challenge. In the case of the study of Landers and Landers (2014), this was
competition between students to be on top of the leaderboard. It could be possible that it was this
game characteristic that engaged their students to take part in learning activities and that would
also have been one way to engage the students in the current study to complete more quizzes. In
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 29
other words, conflict/challenge could be the determining aspect that led to student engagement
within the study of Landers and Landers (2014). Yet, this assumption calls for research
determining if leaderboards can actually be an effective way of strengthening the testing effect
by motivating students to take more tests to outperform other students on the tests.
In contrast to our theoretical assumptions, findings for the Quizzes Completed prior to
Test A indicate that students in the gamified quiz condition took part in fewer quizzes than
students who experienced traditional quizzes. Yet, they outperformed the traditional quiz group
in Test A. This could mean that instead of engaging students to complete more quizzes (Werbach
and Hunter, 2012), the current version of gamification might have had a different effect on
students. Possibly, the game elements created a more rewarding experience of completing the
quizzes (cf. Kwon, Halavais, & Havener 2015). Specifically, the encouraging messages might
have felt rewarding (Zichermann & Cunningham, 2011), the progress bar could have shown
students that they successfully advance their knowledge (Dicheva et al., 2015), and not needing
the hint button any more might have also constituted a rewarding experience. This kind of might
have also initiated effects other than what we initially assumed in the theoretical background. For
instance, the encouraging messages may have provided too good of a positive feedback, which
consequently may have given students the confidence that they were ready for the exam and
prevented them from returning to the quiz. Similarly, the progress bar may have also generated a
sense of completion where students felt like they were finished with the quizzes and didn’t need
to complete them again. It is possible that when students saw a full progress bar they might
perceive that they mastered this quiz (cf. Dicheva et al., 2015). Lastly, if students opt out of the
wager option, they may also interpret this as a message of preparedness for the tests.
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 30
We interpret this effect in a way that students who received these additional features on
their progress and performance (i.e., more explicit than in the traditional quiz condition) may
have perceived that they achieved everything needed to prepare for the test using the quizzes,
thus leading them to complete fewer quizzes (at least for Test A). The game elements potentially
increased students level of self-efficacy regarding the learning content and this higher self-
efficacy might have positively affected test performance (cf., Tay, Ang, & Van Dyne, 2006).
Supporting this assumption, Gist and Mitchell (1992) present an overview of determinants of
self-efficacy showing that feedback and mastery experience can affect self-efficacy. In the case
of the current study, encouraging messages as well as the progress bar and becoming
independent from the hints might all account for these feedback and mastery processes to
influence self-efficacy (cf. Dicheva et al., 2015). However, we advise caution regarding this
interpretation of the results as this result was only found for Test A, and as there is strong need
for future studies to support the aforementioned assumption.
Furthermore, the results of this study contribute to growing research on the influence of
individual differences on the effects of gamification (e.g., Landers & Armstrong, 2017). We
found that the available demographic variables (i.e., gender and year in school) did not affect the
interpretation of our findings when used as covariates. However, lower achieving students
benefited less from the potential positive effects of gamification expanding research on the
moderating effects of individual differences on gamification (e.g., Koivisto & Hamari, 2014;
Landers & Armstrong, 2017). Additionally, the results of the moderated-mediation imply that
there might be long-lasting effects of gamification for higher achieving students which is in
contrast to the previously discussed novelty effect. Specifically, we found that there was a direct
positive effect of gamification on all the tests for students with medium and high course grades.
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 31
In combination with the finding that gamification did not affect the number of Quizzes
Completed, the direct positive effect of gamification on learning for higher achieving students
might indicate that these students benefited from gamification in a way that was not captured in
this study. As already discussed before, students’ self-efficacy might be the variable that
accounts for the findings of the current study more precisely, self-efficacy resulting from a
mastery experience for the quizzes (cf. Dicheva et al., 2015; Gist & Mitchell, 1992). It is
imaginable that the gamified version of the quizzes especially improved self-efficacy only for
students with already higher self-efficacy because of previously experiencing success in their
studies (cf., Bandura, 2006).
Another possible explanation for the differential effects based on students’ abilities might
come from research regarding seductive details (Rey, 2012). This research has shown that adding
illustrative but irrelevant information to a text or a presentation (i.e., seductive details) can
distract learners from the actual comprehension of the content (Garner, Brown, Sanders, &
Menke, 1992). This seems to be especially true for people with lower working-memory
capacities (Sanchez & Wiley, 2006). We used students’ course grade as a measure for students’
capabilities to study at a university. Hence, it might also be possible that course grade is
correlated with students’ cognitive abilities such as working-memory capacity (Richardson et al.,
2012). This could mean that some game features may be more of a distraction than a benefit to
lower achieving students which would correspond to research on seductive details. However,
investigating if certain approaches to gamification really lead to effects similar to detrimental
effects found for seductive details would need to be thoroughly investigated in future studies.
A potential consequence of the aforementioned effects and the moderating role of
students’ abilities on the benefits of gamification might be a Matthew effect (Penno, Wilkinson,
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 32
& Moore, 2002) in a way that higher achieving students benefit more from gamification whereas
lower achieving students are left behind. This is especially problematic in cases when instructors
consider applying gamification to specifically enhance motivation in lower achieving students as
it could increase the gap between higher and lower achieving students. It is important to note that
this study is not the first one to point at the potential negative effects of gamification. For
instance, Hanus and Fox (2015) found that gamification through leaderboards and badges led to
less motivation and lower course grades. In our case, gamification through points did not lead to
positive effects for lower achieving students. Therefore, this finding calls for further research
regarding antecedents and conditions for successful gamification (i.e., the reasons for why lower
achieving students did not benefit from gamification).
Interpersonal differences seem to be especially important when trying to predict if and for
whom gamification has positive effects (see also Kovoisto & Hamari, 2014). For instance, a
tentative interpretation of the findings of the current study would be that certain ways to gamify
learning might work better for people with higher cognitive abilities. There are many other
interpersonal differences that could possibly affect the effects of gamification. Since
gamification elements such as leaderboards work through competition, it might also be
interesting to investigate the effects of people’s competitiveness (see e.g., Smither & Houston,
1992) on gamification and the list of variables potentially affecting gamification can be extended
easily (e.g., Big Five Personality factors, locus of control).
Limitations
There are at least three limitations that need to be addressed in the current study. First,
due to having real-world field data, this study is based on a quasi-experimental design. This
means that students could not be randomly assigned to the different Quiz Formats due to the
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 33
nature of the data collection (i.e., assessing two subsequent semesters). Thus, in this particular
comparison, findings should be interpreted cautiously as there might be systematic differences
between the courses that were not canceled out by randomization (e.g., students who take an
introduction to psychology class in the fall rather than the spring may have systematic
differences from one another that could not be controlled for). However, many elements were
consistent between the two semesters (e.g., the same instructor, same pool of quizzes, same
tests), and including Gender as well as year of study as covariates did not affect the interpretation
of the results.
Second, the gamification approach used three game elements. Therefore, it is difficult to
tell which of these components had which effects. It is likely that displaying overall scores with
an encouraging message as the only gamified feature would have different effects than
presenting a progress bar with current and potential points as the only gamified feature. Future
studies should be aware of this potential issue with game elements that was also highlighted by
Landers and colleagues (2018) who stated that it is necessary to also investigate the effects of
single gamification elements in order to understand their effects.
Third, we aimed at revealing a potential psychological effect through which gamification
should enhance the testing effect in a way that gamification should enhance motivation to
complete preparational quizzes. However, the results show that gamification worked (for Test A
and for higher achieving students) through a different mechanism. Therefore, we were not able to
open the black box through which the current version of gamification affected learning. Future
studies could consider gathering qualitative data from participants which would help to reveal
students’ thoughts on gamification and provides insights into their learning experience through
gamification. Even though the current study was not able to open the black-box on the effects of
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 34
gamification on learning, its results contribute to research and practice highlighting the need for
more research on the attendance to the positive effects of gamification (e.g., individual
differences). Therefore, this study repeats and reinforces calls (e.g., Landers et al., 2018) for
extensive research on revealing the psychological underpinnings of the effects of gamification.
Practical implications
For instructors there might be a variety of take-aways from the current study. First, the
current form of gamification did initially benefit student learning. Since the game elements of the
current study can be easily included in existing instructional content, instructors might consider
similar forms of gamification for enhancing short-term assignments and activities to improve
learning outcomes. Second, it seems not to be effective to use the same game elements to
enhance learning permanently or for long-term assignments. Similar to previous research (e.g.,
Koivisto & Hamari, 2014), there seems to be evidence that gamification is not sustainably
improving student learning. Given this, game features may lose their influence already after a
short period of time. Thus, the game features possibly would need to be altered to once again be
novel to continue to show improvements over traditional methods. Lastly, game features should
be introduced with care, considering that there seem to be contexts where higher achieving
students benefit more than lower achieving ones. Although this is not reason to rule out
gamification, it does call for special considerations and designs meeting the needs of this
population. Possibly, some game features may be more of a distraction than a benefit to lower
achieving students which would correspond to research on seductive details (cf., Sanchez &
Wiley, 2006). Thus, our final advice to instructors is to approach applications of gamification
with intention, understanding that these features can be of use but are best designed for the
particular assignment and group of students who will be completing them.
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 35
Future research
The current study reinforces previous calls for research in the area of gamification (e.g.,
Landers et al., 2018). Future work could develop ideas to enhance the sustainability of
gamification effects. One fruitful avenue could be to investigate the effect of constant changes in
game elements. For instance, in the beginning of a course, students could receive points for
assignments. After some time, it might be possible to add a leaderboard in which students can
compete with each other. After more time, the leaderboard could include features like badges to
motivate students to fulfill certain tasks. This would closely follow the model of common games
(e.g., trading card games; MMORPGs) which constantly add new game features and change
game rules and elements in order to keep gamers motivated (see e.g., Hodge et al., 2018).
Another consideration for future research comes from findings in the current study which
point towards interpersonal differences as factors influencing the effects of gamification. It is
equally likely that situational factors influence gamification. For instance, the same gamification
approach might affect learning in a pedagogical setting positively whereas it does not affect
learning in a workplace setting. One reason for such a finding could be that gamification seems
appropriate in one setting (e.g., motivating students to do their homework) but not in another
(e.g., motivating employees to take part in training).
Conclusion
The current study replicated the testing effect in an online learning setting, implied that
gamification can have short-term positive effects, and showed that interpersonal differences can
influence the positive effects of gamification. While our findings imply that the effects of certain
gamification approaches seem to be short-lived and may only be beneficial to higher performing
individuals, our findings also strongly support the call for more scrutiny regarding antecedents
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 36
and consequences of, as well as psychological processes behind gamification (Landers et al.,
2018) as there are still many things hidden inside of black boxes ready to be examined by future
research.
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 37
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Figure 1. The theory of gamified learning by Landers (2014) p. 760. Note that the path Game Characteristics
Behavior/Attitudes Learning Outcomes, as well as the path
Instructional Content Behavior/Attitude Learning Outcomes are mediating processes. The original
model by Landers (2014) also included a moderating process (original proposition 4) from
Behavior/Attitude on the path Instructional Content Learning Outcomes. We left out this path as we did
not hypothesize a moderating process resulting from our Behavior/Attitude measure (i.e., number of Quizzes
Completed).
P 2, 5
P 3, 5
Behavior/Attitude
Learning Outcomes
Instructional
Content
Game
Characteristics
P 1
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 51
Figure 2. Theoretical model of the current study based on the theory of gamified learning (see Landers,2014,
p. 760) with the addition of course grade as a moderator and the exclusion of the Instructional Content box
from the original theoretical model (see grey box and paths). In order to match the wording within our study,
we adapted the content of the boxes (i.e., Learning Outcomes from the original theory of gamified learning
are the Test Scores within the current study; Game Elements from the original theory is Gamification;
Behavior/Attitudes from the original theory are Quizzes Completed). The path Gamification Quizzes
Completed Test Score displays a mediation process. The influence of Course Grade on the paths
Gamification Quizzes Completed and Quizzes Completed Test Score displays moderating processes.
P = Proposition from the theory of gamified learning. H = Hypothesis in the current study.
P 1
Instructional
Content
H3
H3
P 2, 5
H 1, 2
P3, 5
H2
Quizzes Completed
Test Score
Gamification
Course Grade
H3
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 52
Figure 3. Results of the PROCESS moderated-mediation analysis. The dotted line indicates that
there was only a significant effect of the Quiz Format on Quizzes Completed for Test A. Low =
Low Course Grade, Medium = Medium Course Grade, High = High Course Grade. NTestA = 454,
NTestB = 444, NTestC = 437.
*p < .05, ** p < .01.
Quizzes Completed
Test Score
Gamification
Course Grade
Test
β
A
-.25**
B
-.06
C
.07
Test
β
A
.21**
B
.26**
C
.19**
Test
β
A
.38**
B
.27**
C
.23*
Conditional direct effects
Test A
Test B
Test C
Low
-.11
-.01
-.12
Medium
.40
.28
.28
High
.87
.54
.67
Conditional indirect effects
Test A
Test B
Test C
Low
-.06
-.05
.01
Medium
-.05
-.01
.02
High
.04
.03
.03
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 53
Table 1.
Descriptives and correlations of study variables
n
M
SD
1
2
3
4
5
6
1. Gender
473
-
-
2. Quiz Format
473
-
-
.03
3. # of Quizzes Completed
473
18.15
5.94
.00
-.03
4. Test A
454
.79
.13
-.01
.09*
.26***
5. Test B
444
.71
.14
.01
.05
.31***
.68***
6. Test C
437
.72
.13
-.07
.09
.23***
.66***
.68***
7. Course Grade
473
.79
.18
.06
-.21***
.23***
.24***
.29***
.22***
Note. Gender, female = 0, male = 1; Quiz Format, traditional quiz = 0, gamified quiz = 1. Test A, Test
B, Test C, and Course Grade are all percentages.
*p < .05, ** p < .01.
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 54
Table 2.
Regression results for the tests regarding the moderated-mediation model with the mediator Quizzes Completed and
the moderator course grade (see Figure 1)
Model
R2
Coefficient
SE
95% Confidence Interval
Effect on Quizzes Completed A
.06**
-
-
-
Quiz Format Quizzes Completed A
-.25**
.09
[-.42, -.07]
Course Grade → Quizzes Completed A
.13*
.06
[.01, .25]
Quiz Format x Course Grade → Quizzes Completed A
.08
.09
[-.10, .26]
Complete Model Test A
.17**
-
-
-
Quizzes Completed A → Score Test A
.21**
.05
[.11, .30]
Course Grade → Score Test A
.00
.07
[-.13, .13]
Quiz Format → Score Test A
.38**
.09
[.20, .56]
Quizzes Completed x Course Grade → Score Test A
.02
.04
[-.06, .10]
Quiz Format x Course Grade → Score Test A
.55**
.10
[.36, .73]
Effect on Quizzes Completed B
.06**
-
-
-
Quiz Format Quizzes Completed B
-.06
.09
[-.23, .12]
Course Grade → Quizzes Completed B
.11
.08
[-.01, .22]
Quiz Format x Course Grade → Quizzes Completed B
.17*
.09
[.003, .34]
Complete Model Test B
.17**
-
-
-
Quizzes Completed B → Score Test B
.26**
.05
[.16, .37]
Course Grade → Score Test B
.13*
.07
[.01, .26]
Quiz Format → Score Test B
.27**
.10
[.09, .46]
Quizzes Completed x Course Grade → Score Test B
.04
.04
[-.04, .10]
Quiz Format x Course Grade → Score Test B
.30**
.09
[.11, .48]
Effect on Quizzes Completed C
.00
-
-
-
Quiz Format Quizzes Completed C
.07
.09
[-.10, .24]
Course Grade → Quizzes Completed C
.05
.06
[-.08, .17]
Quiz Format x Course Grade → Quizzes Completed C
.05
.11
[-.16, .26]
Complete Model Test C
.13**
-
-
-
Quizzes Completed C → Score Test C
.19**
.05
[.08, .29]
Course Grade → Score Test C
.12
.07
[-.02, .26]
Quiz Format → Score Test C
.23*
.10
[.04, .42]
Quizzes Completed x Course Grade → Score Test C
.06
.06
[-.06, .17]
Quiz Format x Course Grade → Score Test C
.50**
.12
[.26, .74]
Note. Coding of the variable Quiz Format: -1 = traditional quizzes, 1 = gamified quizzes. Quizzes Completed and the
Course Grade were z-standardized for these calculations. The 95% confidence interval for the effects is obtained by
the bias-corrected bootstrap with 10,000 resamples. NTestA = 454, NTestB = 444, NTestC = 437.
GAMIFICATION IN THE CLASSROOM 55
Table 3.
Results for the conditional direct and indirect effects of the condition on the test scores.
Model
Course
Grade
Effect
SE
95%
Confidence
Interval
Conditional Direct Effects
Quiz Format → Score Test A
Low
-.11
.12
[-.36, .13]
Quiz Format → Score Test A
Medium
.40
.09
[.21, .58]
Quiz Format → Score Test A
High
.87
.13
[.62, 1.12]
Quiz Format → Score Test B
Low
-.01
.13
[-.27, .24]
Quiz Format → Score Test B
Medium
.28
.10
[.09, .47]
Quiz Format → Score Test B
High
.54
.13
[.28, .79]
Quiz Format → Score Test C
Low
-.12
.13
[-.38, .14]
Quiz Format → Score Test C
Medium
.28
.10
[.09, .47]
Quiz Format → Score Test C
High
.67
.14
[.39, .96]
Conditional Indirect Effects
Quiz Format Quizzes Completed → Score Test A
Low
-.06
.03
[-.15, -.01]
Quiz Format Quizzes Completed → Score Test A
Medium
-.05
.02
[-.11, -.02]
Quiz Format Quizzes Completed → Score Test A
High
.04
.03
[-.11, .01]
Quiz Format Quizzes Completed → Score Test B
Low
-.05
.04
[-.12, .01]
Quiz Format Quizzes Completed → Score Test B
Medium
-.01
.02
[-.06, .03]
Quiz Format Quizzes Completed → Score Test B
High
.03
.04
[-.04, .13]
Quiz Format Quizzes Completed → Score Test C
Low
.01
.01
[-.03, .09]
Quiz Format Quizzes Completed → Score Test C
Medium
.02
.02
[-.02, .06]
Quiz Format Quizzes Completed → Score Test C
High
.03
.04
[-.02, .13]
Note. Coding of the variable Quiz Format: -1 = traditional quizzes, 1 = gamified quizzes. Values
of the moderator levels for the moderator Students’ Course Grade: Low = minus one SD from the
mean, Medium = mean, High = plus one SD from the mean. Quizzes Completed and Course
Grade were z-standardized for these calculations. The 95% confidence interval for the effects is
obtained by the bias-corrected bootstrap with 10,000 resamples. SE = standard error of the effect
sizes. NTestA = 454, NTestB = 444, NTestC = 437.
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