How does Learning Gamification improve outcomes?

Gamification of Learning is the science and art of building and supporting motivation. The resulting engagement has a powerful affect on outcomes including completion, retention, and performance. Gamification draws on the psychological tools that make games compelling, and brings them to non-game environments like courses and training. Delphinium improves learner motivation and engagement by generating environments that create the following feelings and attitudes:


Motivation increases when we feel successful. Gamification surfaces real-time information that help learners celebrate their successes and create and accomplish goals. Success enhances their identity as learners, which in turn results in more success.


Motivation increases when we are free to make choices. Gamification can allow students to make choices like topic order and timing.


Motivation increases when we feel part of something meaningful. Gamification facilitates meaning by promoting social interaction and creating a purposeful narrative and context.

Girl with airplane wings pointed to sky

Girl with airplane wings pointed to sky

Gamification creates a sense of urgency that drives completion, retention, performance, and, ultimately, success!


The feelings of success, autonomy, and meaning that gamification generate creates the kind of fun experiences leave students wanting to come back for more!

What is Gamification of Learning?


Regardless of the quality of learning materials and experiences, if students don’t have effective learning skills and/or a willingness to engage, student performance and course completion will likely suffer [1]. One dramatic example of this comes from a study that found Harvard and MIT’s 17 massive online open courses had only a 5% completion rate [2]. Assuming Harvard and MIT’s reputation for excellence is well earned, this finding is likely due to low student motivation and/or ability—not low quality course content or inferior assignments. Schools often experience disengagement, cheating, learned helplessness, and dropping out due to boredom or lack of engagement, absenteeism, and distraction [3, 4]. Conversely, millions of people freely engage in games for recreation [5]. Addressing learner motivation will become more and more important as online courses become more prevalent. Project Delphinium asks, “Can we improve learner skill and will, and subsequently increase student performance and completion, by adding game elements to a course?” Our research clearly indicates that the answer is a resounding YES!

Gamification of Learning vs. Learning Games

Figure 1. Skill & Will Learning Model [6]

Gamification of learning is a relatively new concept that has gained popularity in research and practice in recent years. It has different goals than learning games, though both work to improve learning outcomes. While a learning game tries to integrate pedagogy and content into a fun experience (i.e., it becomes the teacher), learning gamification’s goal is to drive behaviors and attitudes (i.e., skill and will) that promote learning outcomes [1].

Many of the attitudes and behaviors that learning gamification target are not directly related to the learning process. Instead, gamification of learning involves strategically applying game elements to non-game learning environments (e.g., a course) to encourage students to practice the “skill” and “will” demonstrated by effective learners. For example, a learning gamification intervention might be designed to improve time on task, self-monitoring, task and standards perception, motivation, engagement, perseverance, and evaluation of one’s performance, abilities, and reactions (Figure 1) [6]. Each of these are behaviors and attitudes that have been shown to improve learning. While one might say they learned from a learning game, they could not say they learned from learning gamification. Instead, one might say learning gamification helped them know how to (skill), and want to (will), learn [1]. In addition, even though a gamified learning experience may have many game elements, like leaderboards, achievements, challenge, collaboration, autonomy, etc., it is not considered an actual game because it lacks characteristics of a complete game, like an end state (i.e., winning or losing). Obviously, creating losers in a learning environment is undesirable.

Finally, educational games are time and labor intensive, expensive to build, and are not easily repurposed because they are typically deeply integrated with unique content. Gamification on the other hand, is an instructional layer separate from the content and can easily be repurposed with a variety of class types. This, as a result, reduces your time and cost investment.

Tools for Gamification of Learning

Few tools for the gamification of learning are currently available and developing such an environment can be time consuming, expensive, and requires a significant level of programming expertise [9]. Most current learning gamification researchers either use standalone gamified environments [8] or they develop plug-ins for a specific Learning Management System (LMS) [16]. These tools are often proprietary and inflexible and typically cannot be or are not shared with others. This makes it difficult to apply gamification at scale in schools or organizations.

Project Delphinium works to eliminate these issues by significantly simplifying the development time for making new game elements and providing an "plug and play" like environment for adding game elements to a course. Delphinium gamification designs are flexible, allowing designers to mix and match game elements for a course. Project Delphinium has been called the WordPress of learning gamification. This allows designers to rapidly prototype and test their gamification designs to ensure they are getting the best results possible. Once a gamification design has been created, it can be rolled out to any number of courses.

Literature Review

Almost all current learning gamification studies find that at least some of the intended goals of learning were achieved. In general, studies find that adding game characteristics to a class can be motivating, fun, exciting, socially supportive, and engaging; and can have a positive impact on learning outcomes like participation, completing assignments, performance, completing work early, assignment quality, and feelings of success [7-28]. Gamification seeks to improve educational experiences by engaging students at a social, emotional, and cognitive level. Its goal is to help students want to participate more deeply in their education and perhaps change their self-concept as learners.

Research Behind Delphinium

Project Delphinium has been researched and developed for more than 6 years [31, 32]. Using Delphinium, researchers have been able to demonstrate an 11.9 point improvement in student retention in online sections, and over 70% of the students report that they are “more” or “much more” motivated than in a traditional course. Data also demonstrated that the majority of students finished assignments earlier and earned more points sooner in this environment. In one study, 45% of students did more work than was required to get an A and the failure rate was cut almost in half from 24% to 13%. Clearly, delphinium is an effective tool for lowering withdraws, and increasing student completion and performance.


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