Motivation through games – Full article

Playful elements such as competitions, quests and challenges have proved very useful in livening up teaching sequences and above all in motivating students. Here, in addition to their extrinsic motivation, many students also display increased intrinsic motivation. Both are demonstrably important to the success of learning (see [1]). The concept of gamification in teaching is not new, but using computers to realise it has created new possibilities. At ETH these are now being tried out in various courses.

The general definition of gamification is: “Gamification is using game-based mechanics, aesthetics and game thinking to engage people, motivate action, promote learning, and solve problems.”[2] Or, more simply put, “Gamification is the process of using game thinking and game mechanics to solve problems and engage users.”[3] Here it should be differentiated from “serious gaming” and “game-based learning”, which denote actual computer games which are pedagogically oriented and have clearly formulated learning objectives (e.g. iCivics[4]). The focus of gamification, in contrast, is the changing of existing concepts and approaches and not the development of new computer games. However, all of these approaches have a clear aim: to increase student engagement [4].

In the NMC-Horizon Report 2014 gamification was named as the most important technological teaching and learning development for the next 2-3-year period. In the current Report, however, it is no longer referred to as a technological teaching and learning trend – for in the meantime it is no longer a trend, but has been integrated into the world of learning. One of the best-known tools of gamification is badges [5], virtual prizes which recognise achievements during a course. There are examples of significant correlations between learning success and the deployment of gamification, and of an inverse influence on dropout rates [6] and fail grades. However, in his definitive book [2] Kapp warns against simply viewing gamification as the deployment of competition and participant ranking lists: gamification requires didactic adjustments and an aligned overall teaching concept if it is to work.  Gameplay (game progression) and storytelling (the way the game’s history is told) in particular must be thought through. Other authors are also sceptical [7], but mostly criticise the extrinsic nature of the student motivation generated by gamification.

At ETH several projects on the theme of gamification have been implemented. They include:

Gamification increases many students’ engagement with their learning, and is an interesting option for ETH. However, games are not the be all and end all for teaching. Rather, targeted aspects of gamification should be identified and deployed. Ways to do this already exist. In the digital area, the Moodle learning platform is equipped for action in this respect (e.g. with LevelUp! plugins (, and the concept of badges and performance-based availability are known.

1.      Sailer, Michael (2016): Die Wirkung von Gamification auf Motivation und Leistung : Empirische Studien im Kontext manueller Arbeitsprozesse – Wiesbaden : Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden.
2.      Kapp, K. M. (2012). The Gamification of Learning and instruction: game-based methods and strategies for training and education. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.




6.      Hamari, J., Koivisto, J., and Sarsa, H. (2014). Does Gamification Work? – A Literature Review of Empirical Studies on gamification. In proceedings of the 47th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, Hawaii, USA.