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Gamification in e-learning: A Moodle implementation and its effect on student engagement and performance

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Purpose This study aims to deploy game elements in an e-learning course on the Moodle platform. One of the greatest challenges of e-learning can be motivating and engaging students in learning. Gamification has been attracting increasing attention as a key underlying aspect of pedagogy that can be used to increase student engagement and motivation in learning. Design/methodology/approach To investigate student satisfaction and engagement with an e-learning course, here an Information Literacy Skills course, the authors collected data from 104 undergraduate students enrolled on the course in Thailand. In addition, the authors used student interaction data obtained from Moodle to examine whether there were any differences in the frequency of online interaction with the course between the students who performed at an above-average level and those who were below average. Findings The findings indicated that the students were highly satisfied with the gamification tools in Moodle and they were engaged in the gamified e-learning course. The authors found a significant difference in the frequency of online interaction with the course between the group who performed at an above-average level and the group who were below average. Practical implications The findings have important implications for the development of gamification in e-learning. Originality/value This paper fulfills an identified need to study how gamification idea can be implemented in e-learning.
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Interactive Technology and Smart Education
Gamification in e-learning: a moodle implementation and its
effect on student engagement and performance
Journal:
Interactive Technology and Smart Education
Manuscript ID
ITSE-06-2019-0030.R1
Manuscript Type:
Research Paper
Keywords:
E-Learning, Higher Education, Learning Methods
Interactive Technology and Smart Education
Interactive Technology and Smart Education
GAMIFICATION IN E-LEARNING: A MOODLE IMPLEMENTATION AND ITS
EFFECT ON STUDENT ENGAGEMENT AND PERFORMANCE
ABSTRACT
Purpose: One of the greatest challenges of e-learning can be motivating and engaging students
in learning. Gamification has been attracting increasing attention as a key underlying aspect of
pedagogy that can be used to increase student engagement and motivation in learning. In the
present paper, we present a study on deploying game elements in an e-learning course on the
Moodle platform.
Design/methodology/approach: To investigate student satisfaction and engagement with an e-
learning course, here an Information Literacy Skills course, we collected data from 104
undergraduate students enrolled on the course in Thailand. In addition, we used student
interaction data obtained from Moodle to examine whether there were any differences in the
frequency of online interaction with the course between the students who performed at an above-
average level and those who were below average.
Findings: The findings indicated that the students were highly satisfied with the gamification
tools in Moodle and they were engaged in the gamified e-learning course. We found a significant
difference in the frequency of online interaction with the course between the group who
performed at an above-average level and the group who were below average.
Practical implications: Our findings have important implications for the development of
gamification in e-learning.
Originality/value: This paper fulfils an identified need to study how gamification ideas can be
implemented in e-learning.
Keywords: Gamification, E-learning, Engagement, Satisfaction, Online interaction, Moodle
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INTRODUCTION
In the education field, a learning management system (LMS) is a software application that
delivers courseware plus a training program over the Internet. It acts like a bridge between
instructors and students. An LMS helps the instructor to create e-learning content, deliver the
content to the students, administer assignments or tests, and to monitor and assess their
performance. It can be used for all kinds of e-learning activities. Anybody who's doing e-
learning is already likely using an LMS. Almost all higher education institutions have
implemented LMSs to manage e-learning and teaching in their organization (Dahlstrom, Brooks,
& Bichsel, 2014). Such institutions benefit from using an LMS in many ways: (a) both
instructors and students can easily get access to learning materials at anytime and from
anywhere, (b) both instructors and students can also get updates with the latest news, (c) students
can track their learning progress and instructors can monitor their students, (d) its use simplifies
the learning process.
Despite the high level of interest in many institutions in using LMSs as a tool to support their e-
learning courses, there still exist problems in motivating and engaging students to use these
systems. Many studies, moreover, have shown that student retention rates are lower for online
courses than when compared to face-to-face courses (Wise, 2015). As the LMS plays such an
important role in e-learning, these problems have become a major concern for LMS vendors.
Consequently, many features and functions have been improved to facilitate and encourage using
LMSs, including with an aim to motivate and engage students more in their learning. Along with
the current trends of LMSs, features to encourage engagement and retention include gamification
(Broer & Breiter, 2015; Radwan, Senousy, & Alaa El Din, 2014). Gamification is now
considered one of the most important features in any LMS. Based on an LMS Industry User
Research report, gamification in LMSs was ranked fourth in terms of the top most desired
features (Medved, 2015). Moreover, according to the literature, many researchers have shown
the potential of using gamification in e-learning to improve student engagement and motivation
(AL-Smadi, 2015; Hansch, Newman, & Schildhauer, 2015; Li, Dong, Untch, & Chasteen, 2013;
Poondej & Lerdpornkulrat, 2016).
Gamification is the process of applying game mechanisms or elements to real-world or
productive activities so as to motivate and engage users (Werbach & Hunter, 2012). In other
words, gamification is about making something that may be considered potentially tedious into a
game ("Gamification," n.d.) to make it more interesting and engaging. Typically, gamification
may involve taking a routine activity and adding game mechanics, such as awarding experience
points, badges, and levels for completing activities, and leaderboards to boost engagement and to
measure performance and progress, thus increasing user interest and even making the activity
more addictive (see Hamari, Koivisto, & Pakkanen, 2014). Due to the benefit of gamification, it
has been implemented in a variety of contexts, including education. In short, gamification in
education is one of the key modern pedagogical paradigms and is a hot trending topic of
discussion and research.
In an online context, gamification is currently one of the most interesting trends in corporate e-
learning technologies (The Company of Thought, 2015). Applying gamification strategies in an
online context is very different to teaching in a physical classroom, in which instructors are able
to manage and organize students more directly (Kuo & Chuang, 2016). In e-learning, an LMS
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plays a key role in creating a gamification learning platform. There are many LMS options on
the market with gamification features included. Moodle is one of them. It is a popular open
source free LMS used by instructors around the world for delivering e-learning and training
("LMS Data – Spring 2017 Updates," 2017).
Although Moodle offers different types of features that facilitate the process of gamification in
learning, it still needs some experience to incorporate those features into existing course
materials. In the present study, the authors implemented and evaluated a Moodle with a gamified
e-learning environment with the aim to enhance student engagement in e-learning. The Moodle
e-learning course studied combined the features commonly used within LMSs, such as course
content management, online quizzes, and learning path reports, with added gamification
strategies.
BACKGROUND
Gamification in Moodle
According to our literature review, a few empirical research studies have been performed on
implementing game elements in the Moodle platform. These studies implemented different
gamification elements, with points, badges, and leaderboards being the most popular game
elements included (Barata, Gama, Jorge, & Gonçalves, 2017; Dias, 2017; García-Iruela, &
Hijón-Neira, 2018; Hew, Huang, Chu, & Chiu, 2016; Katsigiannakis & Karagiannidis, 2017;
Olsson, Mozelius, & Collin, 2015). In the implementation of gamification, the most common
game element used in Moodle is the digital badge, while other game elements are applied by
some add-on software tools. However, very few studies have surveyed the user perceptions of
implementing game elements in Moodle. Only one study, so far, reported that, for learners, the
awarding of digital badges is an interesting concept in e-learning where standard grading is
absent (Olsson et al., 2015).
Many of the literature studies involved comparison-based designs to measure student
engagement in learning. The findings of these studies were consistent in reporting that
gamification has a positive impact on student engagement in learning. However, it is noteworthy
that many of them did not measure particular engagement in the e-learning activities.
Besides, in assessing the impact of the frequency of use of e-learning on student achievement in
learning, a number of research studies have found that a high frequency of interaction is
associated with a high level of success on such courses (Kupczynski, Gibson, Ice, Richardson, &
Challoo, 2011; Murray, Pérez, Geist, & Hedrick, 2012). On the other hand, students who tended
to interact less frequently were likely to achieve less academic success (Broadbent, 2016; Davies
& Graff, 2005). These studies used the course grade as a measure of the level of success in
learning, and the learning analytics data from the LMS to measure the online interaction.
The findings of these previous studies have provided a greater understanding for researchers on
how to implement gamification in e-learning and how it can impact student learning. However,
there is limited empirical evidence or research on the students’ views on the use of gaming
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elements implemented by Moodle, or its impact on student engagement in e-learning. Moreover,
a study on the relationship between student achievement and the frequency of online interaction
is still needed from an Asian perspective since most studies so far have been conducted on
participants in Western countries. Consequently, the present study aimed to address these
shortfalls by answering the following questions:
1. What is a students’ perception of satisfaction toward the use of Moodle with gamification?
2. What is a student engagement in e-learning course using gamification?
3. Do the above- and below-average performing, as measured by final course grade, students
display a difference in their frequency of online interaction with the e-learning course?
METHODOLOGY
Participants
The study participants comprised 104 first-year undergraduate students enrolled on an
Information Literacy Skills course. This course provides 3-credit hours offered in a 16-week
format. On the first day of classes, the instructor asked all the students to enroll on the e-learning
management system, and assigned them the task to complete online components of the course
outside of the classroom before the end of the semester. In addition, the students were able to
check their current experience points (XP), levels, badges, and position on the leaderboards at
any time during the semester.
Development and technical issues
The authors implemented gamification strategy to the Information Literacy Skills course, which
is a course in the general education program for an undergraduate degree. It combines traditional
face-to-face classroom practices with e-learning activities in terms of both content and delivery.
The e-learning aspect ranged from providing appropriate reading tasks to quizzes. In addition, a
gamification platform containing game elements, such as experience points, levels, badges, and
leaderboards, was incorporated into the e-learning design.
In this section of the paper, the authors focus on the development of the gamified e-learning
element using Moodle together with providing an explanation of the development process. The
most important phases were the planning, implementation, and evaluation.
Step 1: Planning phase
Course planning
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In the design of the course structure, there was no sequencing of course content so the
students could freely access any topic as they wanted. The course content was divided
into 11 sections, which the authors joined together as quests. Each quest consisted mostly
of reading material, interactive resources, and quizzes. To complete any quest, the
students had to view the reading material page and pass the quiz requirement, which
earned them experience points. Each quest granted a certain amount of experience points
depending on the sum of the student’s scores earned divided by the number of attempts at
the quiz. Students also had the freedom to choose when they want to attempt the quiz.
Gamification planning
To increase students’ participation and general engagement in the e-learning, the authors
identified five elements of game mechanics used extensively in the learning context. The
details are as follows:
oExperience points (XP)
There were two ways for the students to earn XP: points are automatically
awarded when they complete a quiz, and points are also awarded for performing
certain actions in the e-learning course, such as logging into the system, posting to
a forum, and accessing a reading material page. The amount of XP awarded varies
per action, depending on how much effort needed to be used. For example,
students posting to a forum earn more XP than just logging into the system.
oLevels
To set up the number of levels, the authors used an exponential algorithm for
dynamically calculating levels based on the XP required to get to them. In this
system, there were 20 level counts.
oBadges
There were two types of badges. First, to motivate students, the authors
established a number of activities that students must complete to obtain the
badges, such as participating in a forum, asking a good question, and working
hard. Second, to measure students’ achievements, they earned a badge each time
they completed a specific quest.
oLeaderboards
To display a visual representation of how students in a particular endeavor ranked
against their peers, the authors used a leaderboard system, where those with the
most XP were ranked highest, i.e., at the top of the leaderboard. This allowed
students to check their progress and performance by comparing against others in
the same class.
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oProgress bars
Because providing feedback for students can greatly enhance their learning, the
authors opted to use progress bars as a tool for displaying how far a student was
from reaching the next level.
Step 2: Implementation phase
Because Moodle is well-established LMS used globally and is known to be flexible for
implementing gamification, the authors chose it for the e-learning aspects of this course. The
authors installed Moodle version 3.2, including the “Level up!” block, which is the additional
plug-in for gamification (see https://moodle.org/plugins/block_xp), on the web server. The
authors used the basic Moodle activity modules for the site to manage course content. To
implement the gamified learning environment, both the built-in gamified features in Moodle and
the “Level up!” block were applied to serve as the game mechanics. Table 1 presents how the
features in Moodle were applied to incorporate game elements.
Table 1. Setting up the features in Moodle for gamification
Feature in Moodle
Setting up
Activity completion
All the reading material pages and quiz activities were set with the
condition to be completed. The system will show the activity as
complete (tick box) when all the conditions are met.
Badges
The authors added course badges to the course and set a variety of
criteria (such as completing an activity), including providing feedback
to the student why he/she got this badge. Students will automatically
earn badges by the system when all the criteria have been met, and as
manually issued by an instructor.
Grade book
The authors edited the grade settings by giving students a grade that is
like XP instead of marks.
Quizzes
The authors built several types of quizzes: multiple choice, short
answers, matching, and others. Students are allowed to have multiple
attempts at a quiz, and the final grade is the average grade of all the
attempts and will be recorded in the grade book. In addition, all the
quizzes have a grade to pass and a completion setting.
Forums
A forum is an activity that allow students to socialize and take part in
collaborative learning. The authors created the forum activity and
asked students to post or comment at any time. All the forums have
completion settings, whereby the student must either start a discussion
or reply to a discussion.
“Level up!” block
plugin
This plugin automatically attributes XP to students for their actions,
such as logging into the system, posting to a forum, accessing a
reading material page, and taking a quiz. It also notifies students as
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Feature in Moodle
Setting up
they level up. The authors added this block on the main page to
display the student’s current XP, level, and a progress bar towards the
next level, as well as for tracking the leaderboard.
After finishing the configuration, the authors deployed the Moodle website for running the e-
learning course, which can be accessed on both desktop and mobile platforms (see Figures 1–2).
Figure 1. The home page of the e-learning course
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Figure 2. The leaderboard page
Step 3: Evaluation phase
Instruments
In order to assess the student satisfaction, as a subjective perception, toward the use of
Moodle with gamification and student engagement with the e-learning course, the authors
chose a self-reporting method. At the end of the semester, the authors asked the students
to complete a questionnaire, which comprised. There were two parts, measured on a 5-
point Likert-type scales (1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree). The first part
assessed perception of student satisfaction, adapted from instruments developed by Wang
(2003). It consisted of 10 items (e.g., ‘I am satisfied with the way to display my XP of
Moodle.’). The second part assessed student engagement with the e-learning course, and
was adapted from a prior study (Poondej & Lerdpornkulrat, 2016). It included 12 items
(e.g., ‘The e-learning activities were engaging.’). Cronbach’s alpha values for student
satisfaction and engagement scales were .90 and .79, respectively. A composite score of
each part was computed by averaging the scores for all the answers. The higher scores
indicated a positive feedback in using Moodle.
As Moodle has activity databases that can record a student’s action in terms of every
interaction that occurs within the system, the authors could summarize and aggregate the
student activity data recorded during the semester period. The mean number of
interactions with an online activity per student and their access times were calculated to
explore the typical e-learning behaviors.
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Also, the activity database was used to examine whether there was any difference in
frequency in the levels of online interaction between the above- and below-average
performance students. An independent-samples t-test was used to determine if there was
a statistically significant difference in the comparisons.
Results
Student satisfaction and engagement were measured from the students’ responses to the
survey questions, which involved 10 and 12 questions, respectively. Figure 3 presents the
responses for measuring student satisfaction toward the use of Moodle with gamification,
showing the average score for each question. The overall average score of all the
questions was 4.09 (S.D. = .69), which is considered relatively high, and shows the
students had a high level of satisfaction with using Moodle with gamification and a
positive perception of the system.
4.13
4.12
3.89
4.15
4.05
4.17
4.10
4.08
4.14
0.00
0.50
1.00
1.50
2.00
2.50
3.00
3.50
4.00
4.50
5.00
1. Moodle is easy to use.
2. Moodle is user-friendly
3. The content provided by Moodle is easy to understand.
4. The operation of the Moodle is stable.
5. Moodle enables me to control my learning progress.
6. I am satisfied with the way to display my XP of Moodle.
7. I am satisfied with the way to display my levels of Moodle.
8. I am satisfied with the way to display leaderboards of Moodle.
9. I am satisfied with the way to earn badges of Moodle.
10. I am satisfied with the way to display my badges of Moodle.
Average score of each question
Figure 3. The responses for measuring student satisfaction toward the use of Moodle with
gamification
Figure 4 presents the responses for measuring student engagement with the e-learning
course, showing the average score for each question. Before computing the average
overall score for all the questions, the scoring scales for question numbers 3, 6, 7, and 8
were adjusted by reverse-scoring. The overall average score was 4.08 (S.D. = .82), which
is considered high, and indicates students had a high engagement with the e-learning
course.
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4.21
4.39
2.24
4.07
4.19
1.93
1.92
1.84
3.93
3.94
4.12
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0.00
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1. The online learning activities were engaging.
2. The online learning was fun.
3. I was bored in online learning.
4. I enjoyed going to learn through online system.
5. I was very satisfied with this online learning.
6. I was disappointed with the way this online learning worked out.
7. If I had to do it all over again, I would not enroll in this online learning.
8. I am not happy that I enrolled in this online learning.
9. The activity in this online learning helped me to relieve stress.
10. I am able to relax during the activity in this online learning.
11. My mind was put at ease during the activity in this online learning.
12. The activity in this online learning helped me to unwind.
Average score of each question
Figure 4. The responses for student engagement in e-learning
In addition, data derived from Moodle analytics, which report the number of actions for
each student in the e-learning course, were utilized to find out the mean number of
actions per student. The results showed that each student interacted with the system on
average 529.81 times a semester (4.73 times per day), and the most popular time for
accessing the course was during the time period 8:01 p.m. to 11:59 p.m. (see Figure 5).
12:00 a.m. - 8:00 a.m.
9%
8:01 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
17%
12:01 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.
20%
4:01 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
18%
8:01 p.m. - 11:59 p.m.
36%
Figure 5. Percent breakdown showing the times of the day when the students accessed Moodle
According to the standard measures of central tendency, the mean value of the final
course grade was calculated to analyze the variances between the above- and below-
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average performances. The authors classified students into two groups, comprising 45
and 66 students. The first group represented the students with above-average
performance, and the second represented the students with below-average performance.
A comparison of the frequency of online interaction between the groups was computed
using the independent t-test. The results showed that there was a significant difference in
the scores between the above-average performance group (Mean = 1,017.07, S.D. =
2,447.40) and the below-average performance group (Mean = 197.59, S.D. = 123.83)
conditions; t (44.154) = -2.244, p = .03.
DISCUSSION
The present study aimed to implement a Moodle course with a gamified e-learning environment,
and to then evaluate student satisfaction toward the use of Moodle features for gamification and
student engagement with the e-learning course. This study also investigated the typical e-
learning behaviors of students, and their association with their performance.
The authors first investigated the development of an e-learning course with gamification. Points,
badges, and leaderboards, as the most obvious game elements, were implemented on this course.
These elements were available in the Moodle game element capabilities and through an
extension plug-in. Students participating in the course were asked to complete a survey at the end
of course, and through analyzing the answers, it was found that the students were relatively
highly satisfied with using the gamification features in Moodle. It is remarkable that Moodle, an
open e-learning platform, is powerful enough to create such a gamified e-learning course, as it is
not a truly gamified learning platform. However, we found its core elements and plug-in modules
could support many of game elements, such as points, levels, badges, a leaderboard, and progress
bars (Pastor, Satorre, Molina, Gallego, & Llorens, 2015).
Our second main finding showed that since the average score of student engagement from the
self-reported survey reported high levels of engagement, the students were engaged in this e-
learning course. In addition, the analytics in Moodle showed that, on average, the students
interacted with the course every day during the semester. This result is consistent with previous
studies, which demonstrated higher frequency rates of students’ interaction when students take a
gamified e-learning course (see Katsigiannakis & Karagiannidis, 2017; Olsson et al., 2015).
These findings indicate that with a proper integration of gamification in the field of e-learning,
gamification can have a positive impact on student engagement, driven by the game mechanics
(Dias, 2017; Ding, Kim, & Orey, 2017; Hew et al., 2016; Muntean, 2011).
One purpose of this study was to explore the beneficial effects of students interacting with an
online system. The authors examined whether there was any difference in frequency of online
interaction between the above- and below-average performance, as measured by their final
course grade, students. The findings revealed that students in the above-average performance
group were significantly more active with the e-learning course than students in the below-
average performance group. This is consistent with the literature, where most studies have
reported that the more a student interacts with the online system, the greater the chance he or she
will have of achieving a higher level of performance (Broadbent, 2016; Kupczynski et al., 2011;
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Murray et al., 2012). Further, this study provided empirical evidence to support the beneficial
effects of students interacting with the online system. Given this, it would make sense that
student online interaction is one of the most important predictors of their performance.
Some important implications emerge from these findings. First, since the Moodle platform has a
built-in gamified feature and optional plug-ins, which are enough to support the development of
an effective strategy for the implementation of gamification, it is a suitable platform to
implement gamified e-learning. Second, in general, the advantage of implementing e-learning is
mostly in providing students with the ability to learn at anytime and from anywhere. On the other
hand, with having greater control and freedom over their learning, there is also the problem that
some students may switch off from fully engaging in the course. Therefore, to motivate and
engage students in learning, incorporating gamification strategies into the e-learning course
should be considered. Finally, the analytics about students’ access time in Moodle in this study
showed that students mostly accessed the course during the nighttime period 8:01 p.m. to 11:59
p.m. These findings have some important implications for technicians to ensure they can provide
systems to support connection during peak usage times.
There are some limitations of this study to highlight here. One limitation is that the data derived
from the Moodle activity database didn’t show students’ total time spent online with the e-
learning course. When looking at the measurement of student engagement in e-learning, it is
beneficial to consider the amount of time spent online as well. Another limitation to consider is
that since this study lacked a control group, the authors couldn’t measure differences between
students taking the gamified e-learning course and students taking the regular e-learning course.
Future studies should take a comparison-based design (experimental-control method) into
consideration.
CONCLUSION
In the literature is a notable systematic mapping study presented by Dicheva, Dichev, Agre, and
Angelova (2015), which reported the results of a study of the published works on the application
of gamification to education. The results showed that the restricted support for gamifying courses
in a LMS, the lack of the necessary technical skills of the instructors to create or maintain the
system, and the lack of technical support are the major obstacles for applying gaming elements to
education. Therefore, in this context, the purpose of the present study was to demonstrate how to
use Moodle as a learning tool for gamification. Since Moodle is an open-source, popular, and
flexible tool for creating online dynamic teaching and learning sites, this is the main reason why
the authors selected Moodle. Furthermore, the authors contributed empirical evidence to support
the impact of gamification on e-learning.
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Courses in virtual learning environments can leave recently enrolled participants in a state of loneliness, confusion and boredom. . What course content is essential in the course, where can more information be found and which assignments are mandatory? Research has stated that learner control and motivation are crucial issues for successful online education. This paper presents and discusses visualisation as a channel to improve learner’s control and understanding of programming concepts and gamification as a way to increase study motivation in virtual learning environments. Data has been collected by evaluation questionnaires and group discussions in two courses partly given in the Moodle virtual learning environment. One course is on Game based learning for Bachelor’s programmes, the other is a course on e-learning for university teachers. Both the courses have used progress bars to visualise students’ study paths and digital badges for gamification. Results have also been discussed with teachers and pedagogues at a department for computer and systems sciences. Furthermore, two visualisation prototypes have been designed, developed and evaluated in programming lectures. Findings indicate that visualisation by progress bars is a good way to improve course participants’ overview in online environments with rich and multifaceted content. To what degree the visualisation facilitates the course completion is hard to estimate, and like students have different learning styles, they also seem to have different visualisation needs. Gamification by digital badges seems to have various motivational impacts in different study groups and in traditional university programmes the traditional grades seem to be the main carrots. Finally, it seems that software visualisation might be a promising path to enhance programming education in the 21st century.
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