Open access peer-reviewed chapter

Perspective Chapter: Ungrading, Grading Contracts, Gamification and Game-Based Learning

Written By

Gregory Garvey

Submitted: 18 June 2022 Reviewed: 20 June 2022 Published: 18 August 2022

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.105967

From the Edited Volume

Active Learning - Research and Practice for STEAM and Social Sciences Education

Edited by Delfín Ortega-Sánchez

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This chapter will explore considerations for the adoption of grading contracts with the possible addition of the mechanics of game design, game-based learning, or gamification. The motivation for this approach is to ensure equity and inclusion in the classroom by creating a compassionate environment to enhance student engagement and learning. When introduced in the appropriate way, teachers can track students’ progress without the imposition of the added stress and fear that conventional assessment practices engender. Sometimes referred as “ungrading,” the adoption of these strategies prioritizes the progress of each individual student and re-envisions learning as a series of achievements that students complete and level-up to take on a series of successive challenges based on previous accomplishments not unlike the playing of a video game. If virtual reality can be called an empathy machine, a well-crafted video game is a learning and engagement machine. In other words, the magic “sauce” of video games is that players put in untold hours and effort to learn new skills and are rewarded by the sense of mastery and achievement.


  • teaching
  • learning
  • ungrading
  • labor-based grading
  • game-based learning
  • gamification
  • games
  • mechanics

1. Introduction

In “A Proposal to Abolish Grading” Paul Goodman [1] describes the problem with grading: “For most of the students, the competitive grade has come to be the essence. The naïve teacher points to the beauty of the subject and the ingenuity of the research; the shrewd student asks if he is responsible for that on the final exam.” Packed into Goodman’s statement is the assertion that the emphasis on grading leads to students focusing only on the grade and not on learning and the mastery of the subject. Completely absent is the love of learning for knowledge’s sake. Goodman also addresses the question of why do we have a regime of grading? His answer: “It is uniformly asserted, however, that the grading is inevitable; for how else will the graduate schools, the foundations, the corporations know whom to accept, reward, hire. How will the talent scouts know whom to tap?” Goodman wrote this critique more than 50 years ago. His prescription was to eliminate grading but keep testing “for pedagogic purposes as teachers see fit.”

In Growing Up Absurd [2] Goodman provided a much broader critique of American Society. Just a few years later in 1971, Ivan Illich [3] went further, calling for “deschooling” and a program of reconstructing education. Illich described a “hidden curriculum” that caused learning to align with grades and accreditation rather than placing importance on skill acquisition.

Also published in 1971, Wad-Ja-Get? The Grading Game in America [4] reviewed over 60 years of scholarship on grading. The authors posed the simple question: “Is the traditional system of grading—the one most of us experienced throughout many years of schooling—the most educationally useful system of evaluation?”

In the forward to new edition of Wad-Ja-Get? [5] published in July 2020 Barry J. Fishman summarized the impact of this seminal book with “Changing how we think about, and practice grading is crucial to redesigning education systems to be more just, more equitable, and more focused on learning.” At about the same time Bloom [6] advocated for mastery learning which called for identifying specific objectives broken down into smaller learning units. Unit objectives required mastery through simple feedback/corrective procedures and formative assessments compared to standards of mastery in a field.

Schinske and Tanner [7] trace the emergence and evolution of grading practices along with a review of the literature on grading. The still current practice of assigning letter grades appears to have been already adopted by 1883. F for failure was introduced at Mount Holyoke College in 1898 driven in part by need for standardization between institutions of higher education. The letter grades we use today gained wider adoption by the 1940s but as the authors point out remain controversial to this day. The authors acknowledge that their review of the shortcomings of grading paints a “bleak outlook on the process of grading and its impact on learning.”

In A Century of Grading Research: Meaning and Value in the Most Common Educational Measure [8] Brookhart et al. point to a “what’s wrong with teachers” as a type of research bias into grading but yet conclude that “One hundred years of grading research have generally confirmed large variation among teachers in the validity and reliability of grades, both in the meaning of grades and in the accuracy of reporting.”

A common thread of the critiques of grading is the suppression of natural curiosity through grading. Knowledge becomes a commodity that is instrumentalized toward achievement rather than be driven by curiosity and a quest to understand. Paulo Freire [9] emphasizes an education based on “I wonder” rather than simply “I do.” Grades reinforce the later.

In Pedagogy of the Oppressed [10] Freire critiqued the “banking” concept of education. Students should not be seen as empty vessels to receive knowledge. Education should rather be the process of raising consciousness of their condition so they are empowered to take action (praxis). Freire advocates for students to critically appraise the conditions of their education through dialogics to “recognize connections between their individual problems and experiences and the social contexts in which they are embedded.” Education is seen as a critical pedagogy as empowerment and liberation. “Praxis involves engaging in a cycle of theory, application, evaluation, reflection, and then back to theory. Social transformation is the product of praxis at the collective level.” A focus on grades undermines this project. Educators like Giroux, McLaren, Hooks, Shor, and others [11, 12, 13, 14] have advocated for and expanded critical pedagogy, a discussion of which goes beyond the scope of this chapter.

To this day, students’ fixation with grades remains a problem in higher education. In the United States, the A–F scale with its many variations and GPA equivalents, has a long history [15]. A simple search of the web reveals this grading system persists in many institutions of higher education. In the Moral and Spiritual Crisis in Education Purpel [16] observed in 2004, that grade fixation “produces anxiety, cheating, grade grubbing, and unhealthy competition.” Quantitative correlational studies of grade obsession by Jacqueline Thomas [17] propose four predictor variables: “financial anxiety, the need to receive academic recognition, parental interest and internal pressure.” Thomas summarizes the challenge to educators with “the mission of education to promote a holistic student experiences comes under a threat when grades take priority over traditional educational values.”

Michael H. Romanowski [18] in pointing to similar factors such as fear of losing scholarships, parental pressures for success and accountability argues that there are “issues that are deeply embedded in America’s ideology of success and achievement.” Alfie Kohn [19], reviewed hundreds of studies to show that the artificial incentives of grades based on the now largely discredited behaviorism of B.F. Skinner, overlook the role of intrinsic motivation, leading to poor outcomes. Extrinsic rewards and pay-for-performance elevate obedience over learning and turns play into drudgery. However, in the Appendix B [19]: “What is Intrinsic Motivation” Kohn admits that “it is not at all obvious what is meant by the phrase intrinsic motivation. What appears at first blush an uncomplicated idea reveals itself as a tangle of possibilities, all of which have substantive implications for what we counterpose to the use of rewards.” We will return to this discussion below.

Grade inflation is also consequence [20] along with an increase in associated grade anxiety contributing to a mental health crisis [21] that has broader societal implications. The Pew Research Center reported in 2019 [22] that “most teens (61%) say they personally feel a lot of pressure to get good grades, and another 27% say they feel some pressure to do so.”

The National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) compiles data every 2 years on health-risk behaviors of 9th through 12th grade students in public and private schools across the United States. YRBS data [23] provides “evidence of a significant association between academic grades and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.” A report by the Worcester Polytechnic Institute to foster a campus centered on mental health and well-being notes: “Nationally, feelings of disconnection, fear about the future, hopelessness and increased anxiety are more common than ever, especially among the college-age population.” [24].

A meta-analysis [25, 26] suggests that when graders have awareness about irrelevant information about students, bias may occur involving subjective and unconscious judgments. Confirmation bias, also the subject of longstanding research [27] remains a “ubiquitous phenomenon in many guises” including education. Kahneman [28] describes strategies he adopted while grading to compensate for the Halo Effect where sequence of who is graded first matters: “The Halo Effect increases the weight of first impressions.” For Malouf et al. [29] anonymity in grading is prescribed. An extensive body of research, decades long and ongoing, shows that implicit bias activated by race, age, gender, sexual orientation, and other personal characteristics remains widespread [30, 31, 32, 33] with impacts in grading practices [34, 35]. Others such as Inoue [36], recounts his own evolution in questioning grading: “I started by problematizing grades, which led me to problematize my judgment practices, which then led to problematizing the conditions of White supremacy in my classrooms as an on-going antiracist project.” Inoue concluded [37] that grading standards “seek to exclude, not include, by their nature and function, by default, regardless of how we justify them or who uses them”. Conventional grading privileges some over others.

Consideration should also be given to differences in intelligence, learning styles and in neurodiversity among students. In 1983, Howard Gardner [38] proposed a theory of multiple intelligences (MI) in opposition to a singular quality of intelligence. He argued that conventional testing, assessment, and measures of intelligence did not capture the full range and different proficiencies that individuals possess due to genetic, cultural, and experiential factors. Gardner introduced eight distinct kinds of intelligences: linguistic, logical/mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist. More recently, Daniel Goleman has promoted social and emotional intelligences [39, 40] which might be added to the list.

Marenus [41] suggests the implications for learning of the theory of MI calls for individuation and pluralization: “Individuation posits that because each person differs from other another there is no logical reason to teach and assess students identically.” Pluralization is “the idea that topics and skills should be taught in more than one way.” In recent years technology has enabled access to alternative teaching, learning, and assessments that can suit the needs of learners. Marenus notes that there was pushback to Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence from cognitive psychologists [42] (no empirical evidence for the theory), psychometricians (conventional testing supports the idea of a singular intelligence faculty) [43] and importantly, due to lack of definitions there is no way to empirically measure these different intelligences [44]. Sternberg [45] offers his triarchic theory intelligence as another, alternative theory of multiple intelligences.

It is important to distinguish learning styles from this pluralistic concept of intelligences. Among the many models of learning, the VARK model originally proposed by Fleming and Mills [46] expands upon the earlier tripartite VAK model [47] (visualizing, auditory, kinesthetic modalities). The VARK model distinguishes four perceptual modes or preferential learning styles as follows:

  1. Visual (V)    for graphical and symbolic ways of representing

  2. Read/Write (R)    for information printed as words.

  3. Aural (A)    heard information

  4. Kinesthetic (K)    related to the use of experience and practice

The authors caution that the kinesthetic mode is multi-modal implicating “all perceptual modes-sight, touch, taste, smell and hearing” where any of these perceptual modes are engaged through “experience, example, practice, or simulation.” The VARK Learning Style Inventory, among others [48], is used to help learners and teachers identify learning styles.

Students also manifest learning differences (LD) due to various physiological causes. Attention deficit disorders, autism spectrum, dyslexia, dyspraxia (a co-ordination disorder), dyscalculia and Tourette’s are neurological conditions [49, 50], sometime co-occurring, that affect how individuals learn and process information. The [51] Neurodiversity Movement advocates for individuals who would normally be classified as non-neural typical “are simply normal expressions of human function rather than disorders to be diagnosed and treated.” Stigmatization and labeling exacerbate the gap between what is required and what is accessible to help neurodiverse individuals succeed in higher education.

The preceding discussion is a rough sketch and certainly not a comprehensive review of various factors contributing to discussions of the pros and cons of grading and the search for alternatives. Recent trends have developed new strategies to address many of these shortcomings of grading. Perhaps these strategies share the same conviction as Goodman on the virtues of testing – aiming for mastery of the subject and skill-based competencies. Central to this discussion is the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation for learning and mastery. In Punished by Rewards [19] Kohn identifies these possible candidate qualities: a desire “to feel good, an orientation toward learning and mastery, a need for competence and self-determination” and “perhaps, to relate to and be engaged with others.” We will now examine some strategies that point to alternatives to conventional grading practices.


2. Ungrading

Writing in 1964, Paul Goodman begins his essay [1] with “Let half a dozen of the prestigious Universities –Chicago, Stanford, the Ivy League –abolish grading, and use testing only and entirely for pedagogic purposes as teachers see fit.” He argues that the majority of college level professors would agree that “grading hinders teaching and creates a bad spirit, going as far as cheating and plagiarizing.” Goodman is not alone in noting how the grading regime appears to be a necessary common sense and inevitable methodology to “know whom to accept, reward, hire.”

Alfie Kohn points out that much has been written about academic assessment [52]. He points out that “We need to collect information about how students are doing, and then we need to share that information (along with our judgments, perhaps) with the students and their parents. Gather and report — that’s pretty much it.” Kohn reminds us that questions about the value of grading are not new. He points to the extensive literature dating back to the 1930s. Writing in 1933, A.D. Crooks [53], summarizes the perceived shortcomings of grading that to this day reflects contemporary criticisms. For example, Forman [54] that grades are “a certificate of educational veneer and an artificial stimulation which furnishes fear motivation while it lasts.” Forman’s solution is to provide credit for work that is complete that is original and incorporates knowledge. Crooks also cites Odell [55] who notes that grades become the primary incentive and “leading to working for ulterior rewards, cheating, self-conceit, overwork, discouragement, and jealousy.” Other educators argue that grading reflects competitive human nature or the impossibility of demonstrating superior work inevitability of grades. A commonsense recommendation is to avoid the misuse of grades so that “progressive schools would simply use other tests and techniques than those now common.”

Over the past decade the ungrading movement has made headway among educators. Susan D. Blum [56] describes how she encountered the secret Facebook group “Teachers Going Gradeless,” and captures [57] students’ fixation on grades, by summarizing the questions that faculty often hear such as: “What do you want? What do I have to do to get an A? How can I improve my grade? “What are the criteria for grades?” The focus is on achievement represented by a letter grade not on learning. Blum points out that rarely are students asked: “what are you learning?” rather they are more often asked (and ask each other) “wad-ja-get?” “Wad-ja-get” serves as the title for the book by Howard Kirschenbaum et al. originally published in 1971 [58]. In the subtitle of the book, authors characterized the obsession with grades as the “grading game.” The book uses the device of a fictional conversation about grades to reveal the shortcomings of grading back in the mid 1960s.

In his introduction to the 50th Anniversary Edition of “Wad-ja-get,” Barry J. Fishman references a comprehensive review [59] of the meaning of grades prior to the publication of “Wad-ja-get” and the 50 years following. Fishman concludes “What has changed in those fifty years? Not that much. The general finding that teacher-assigned grades are subjective and unreliable remains constant.” There remains a focus on graduation rates and educational outcomes. He laments that grading continues to be considered “a useful indicator of numerous factors that matter to students, teachers, parents, schools, and communities…”.

In an appendix of “Wad-ja-get” the authors discuss Alternative Grading Systems, [60]. They emphasize the need to distinguish between private and public evaluation. Private evaluation “involves the teacher and student working together, sharing information and feedback, identifying strengths and weaknesses, and planning steps toward improved performance.” Public evaluation appears on the transcript and is shared among educational institutions and employers.

The authors insist that Private evaluation should always include the following for elements:

Clear statement of behavioral objectives, how these will be measured, and what levels of performance will correspond to what specific grades (if grades are used).

Meaningful written or oral communication by the teacher to the student, that considers the student’s strengths, weaknesses, and possible directions for improvement, with respect to the specific course objectives.

Student self-evaluation of strengths, weaknesses, and directions for improvement, both with respect to the teacher’s objectives and with respect to the student’s own learning goals.

Time for the teacher and student to read each other’s evaluations and engage in a dialog based on this sharing of perceptions.

They then discuss eight alternative grading strategies detailing the advantages and disadvantages of each:

Written Evaluations.


Give grades but do not tell the students.

The Contract System.

The Mastery Approach or Performance Curriculum (Five-Point System).

Pass/Fail Grading (P/F).

Credit/No Credit Grading (CR/NC).

Blanket Grading (do required work receive the blanket grade).

From their review of the literature on grading practices Schinske and Tanner [7] suggest that faculty would benefit from spending less time on grading thereby freeing up time to devote to exploring innovative approaches. Pressure for greater accuracy in grading may interfere with learning and demotivate students. Recognizing that students tend not to read the teacher’s comment, instead focus only on the letter grade could be addressed in class discussions with a small award of points for completion. The authors pose the following questions: “What if students themselves used rubrics to examine their peers’ efforts and evaluate their own work, instead of instructors spending hours and hours commenting on papers? What if students viewed their peers as resources and collaborators, as opposed to competitors in courses that employ grade curving?”

Starr Sackstein recommends the following ten “ways to go gradeless” [61]. To “change the grade mindset” she suggests communicate with the stakeholders; rebrand assignments as “learning experiences;” facilitate student partnerships; leverage digital technology to ease data collection; talk to learners inside and outside the classroom; track progress transparently, use reflection to promote metacognition; introduce self-grading and use portfolio assessments.

Susan Blum summarizes the major issues with grading [62]: uniformity of grading and lack of nuanced information about the learner and their individual circumstances; grading and college is perceived by students as a game; grading and rules for completing work is perceived to be arbitrary and inconsistent; students learn to focus on achievement, success and accomplishment not on actual learning and mistakes and risk taking are punitive often resulting in lower grades. Importantly Blum asserts that grades do not truly motivate students rather a teacher should keep in mind the distinction between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.

Blum references the minimax strategy [63] and adds that when students only care about extrinsic reward i.e., the grade encourages the minimax strategy [63] and instrumental behavior to do the minimum amount of work to get the highest grade. The result is “Cheating, shortcuts, cramming…all those make sense if the only goal is points or winning.”

Ryan and Deci [64] provide a detailed analysis and discussion of the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Appealing to self-determination theory [65, 66] they argue that: “in order to make the critical distinction between behaviors that are volitional and accompanied by the experience of freedom and autonomy—those that emanate from one’s sense of self—and those that are accompanied by the experience of pressure and control and are not representative of oneself.” Self-determined behavior is based upon the psychological need for “competence, autonomy and relatedness.” There is the challenge to integrate extrinsically motivated behaviors, described as “instrumental to some separable consequence” to become part of self-determined behavior.

Blum relies on this analysis to recommend the following solutions [62]: decenter grading; emphasize a portfolio as a semester long project; encourage students to develop an individual plan and self-evaluation and conduct portfolio conferences. Blum further calls for the application of Universal Design Principles. Universal Design for learning success emphasizes providing multiple paths for engagement, representation and for action and expression. The UDL guidelines [67] promote equity by offering “a set of concrete suggestions that can be applied to any discipline or domain to ensure that all learners can access and participate in meaningful, challenging learning opportunities.”

Jesse Stommel a prominent voice in the ungrading movement is upfront and direct in his approach practicing a radical project: “I’ve foregone grades on individual assignments for 17 years, relying on qualitative feedback, peer review, and self-assessment. My goal in eschewing grades has been to more honestly engage student work rather than simply evaluate it” [68]. Stommel decries how the imposition of objective measures of performance, leads to grading practices that privileges some students over others: “Students who are female, black, brown, indigenous, disabled, neurodivergent, queer, etc. face overt and systemic oppression whether expectations are explicit or implicit.” All instructors must recognize the role of implicit bias in grading regimes.

Stommel acknowledges there is no single approach to “ungrading.” However, successful ungrading does requires that a faculty member can take full ownership of their pedagogical approach in the classroom. A precondition to this requires the support of administrators and the institution itself to respect and strongly support academic freedom.

Stommel encourages experimentation with the introduction of ungrading for a portion of a semester. Stommel has students “write process letters, describing their learning and how their work evolves over the term;” use minimal grading use authentic assessment; introduce self-assessment; introduce contract grading where “Students work toward the grade they want to achieve, and goal posts don’t unexpectedly shift. These contracts can also be negotiated with the class.” He advocates for the use of portfolios and student made rubrics. Self-reflections at the midterm and end of the semester are ways to give students ownership of their education. Stommel [69] suggests that one can start ungrading in small ways by:

Changing how you talk about assessment.

Invite students into a conversation about grades.

Grade less stuff, grade less often, grade more simply.

Ask students to reflect on their own learning.

Stommel [69] recalls Freire critique of the “banking model” of education and instead argues for “a classroom or learning environment becomes a space for asking questions -- a space of cognition not information.” For Freire, education is revolutionary project empowering the learner. Stommel ties his [68] recommendations back to critical pedagogy: “We don’t prepare students for a world of potential oppression by oppressing them.”Alternatives to “ungrading” might include contract grading, gamification and game-based learning. The following sections will discuss each approach.


3. Contract grading

Contract Grading replaces conventional grading practices with an agreement between the instructor and the student. The student self-selects the amount of work they commit to along with the corresponding grade. Contract Grading gives students greater responsibility for and ownership of their own learning. This approach deemphasizes the instructor as evaluator and gives emphasis to the student as an autonomous learner. Kathy Davidson [70] gives this explanation of Contract Grading to students: “The advantage of contract grading is that you, the student, decide how much work you wish to do this semester; if you complete that work on time and satisfactorily, you will receive the grade for which you contracted. This means planning ahead, thinking about all your obligations and responsibilities this semester and also determining what grade you want or need in this course.”

Davidson suggests that peer review is essential for the success of Contract Grading as a community building action. For Davidson, Contract Grading “is both an idealistic, student-centered way of writing one’s own learning goals--and it is, quite overtly, a workaround, a better alternative to conventional grading and credentialing. By adding the peer review component, contract grading is also an act of community.”

Davidson [71] recalls Paolo Freire, by offering practical advice about redesigning the classroom to be “inspired by equality, not oppression.” The goal of Contract Grading is aligned with the intent of ungrading: “A pedagogy of equality aims to support and inspire the greatest possible student success, creativity, individuality, and achievement, rather than more traditional hierarchies organized around a priori standards of selectivity, credentialing, standardization, ranking, and the status quo.”

Inoue [72] adds: “Thus the overarching goal of labor-based grading contract ecologies, for me, is to get students to practice a network of interlocking, noncognitive competencies (engagement, coping and resilience, and metacognition),” that he describes as a “willingness to labor.” For both Inoue and Davidson contract grading is more than a transaction based on completion of a certain amount of coursework. They see Contract Grading as a way to engage students as complete human beings that are part of community of practice where learners are empowered by the noncognitive competencies described above.

On one level the concept of labor is simply the completion of the required work course work. Inoue goes much further giving a much richer meaning through what he calls “three-dimensional” labor. He draws upon Marx’s concepts of labor, concepts of use-value, exchange value and Hannah Arendt’s hierarchy of labor/work/action. Inoue rejects Arendt’s privileging of action over the work and labor as elitist. He refashions these into a theory of value and labor that helps students understand what labor should be and what labor means in an “economy” of contract labor. Inoue pushes further in seeing an equivalence between “assessment ecologies and political economies.” Three dimensional poses three questions to students to ask of themselves:

How am I laboring and what does it offer me?

How much am I laboring?

What is the nature of my labor and what do I learn from it?

Inoue continues with an analysis of labor, discussing labor-based grading contracts as “a Marxian critique of the culture of classroom assessment, its relations to the labors involved in learning and to larger capitalist modes of production.”

In the Philosophical Manuscripts, Marx [73] proposed a theory of labor based on “estrangement” or “alienation.” Marx asserts: “Thus, if the product of his labor, his labor objectified, is for him an alien, hostile, powerful object independent of him, then his position towards it is such that someone else is master of this object, someone who is alien, hostile, powerful, and independent of him. If he treats his own activity as an unfree activity, then he treats it as an activity performed in the service, under the dominion, the coercion, and the yoke of another man.”

From one perspective, Marx’s analysis is a critique of conventional grading practices. The grade is an objective “commodity” produced by the student’s labor. For a student the grade is labor objectified, assigned by someone else and becomes “alien, hostile” to actual learning and diminishes the humanity of the individual. The student loses autonomy and becomes alienated or estranged from this measure of labor.

The forgoing admittedly leaves out a great deal of Marx’s analysis but does provides useful ways to think about the key differences between gamification and game-based learning.


4. Gamification

In 2011, Sebastian Deterding et al. [74] proposed the following definition of gamification “as the use of game design elements in non-game contexts.” The use of gamification adopts basic elements of game design that make games fun, engaging and “aim to motivate and engage end-users through the use of game elements and mechanics [75]”. In principle gamification can be applied to nearly any activity. Applications include marketing; business and management; employee and customer relations; interaction and user experience design; health, fitness and lifestyle and education. The adoption of gamification across multiple sectors is paralleled by value of the gamification market [76] which has grown from 4.91 billion dollars (US) in 2016 to over 11.94 billion dollars in 2021.

Along with this growth, an extensive literature has arisen on the application of gamification to learning and education. In 2011, Raymer [77] discussed the use of game mechanics applied to eLearning. The extensive meta-analysis by Sailer and Homner [78] answers the question of whether gamification is effective for learning with a provisional yes: “the results suggest that, in general, gamification has the potential to serve as an effective instructional approach for interventions focusing on cognitive, motivational, and behavioral learning outcomes.” Noting promising work with self-determination theory [64] they call for further studies to accumulate an evidence-based understanding of how gamification works and how psychological needs can be matched with high-quality learning through gamification. They identify the most promising strategies such using fictionalized worlds with avatars; use of competitive and collaborative interactions and awarding badges increases motivation. They conclude that “the question of which factors contribute most to successful gamification remains partly unresolved, at least for cognitive learning outcomes.”

Gamification appropriates the formal elements of gameplay or game mechanics. These include elements such as the number of players, their roles, how they interact; the games goals and objectives; the permitted actions, procedures, and rules of play; available resources; and potential for conflict, boundaries or limits, and outcomes such as win/loss states [79]. Werbach and Hunter [80] identify generalized gamification mechanics that are also part of game design including: challenges, chance, competition, cooperation, feedback, resource acquisition, rewards, transactions, turns, and win states.

Some game mechanics commonly used in gamification to motivate and engage users [81] include:

Narrative or story to give meaning and purpose.

Points as units of measurement for tracking progress, experience, and accomplishments.

Leaderboards to rank players and to inspire competition.

Game goals, missions, quests, and challenges to motivate action and direction.

Using badges, certificates and leveling up to provide feedback to gain a sense of progression and achievement.

Creation of a community which gives meaning to achievements.

As the gamification industry matured the game mechanics that are grouped into more complex and sophisticated categories. For example, the Periodic Table of Gamification Elements [82] identifies 52 separate game mechanics that are grouped to support different user types and styles as follows:

Reward Schedule.




Free Spirit.




This list of player types builds upon Richard Bartle’s taxonomy of player types of MUDS (multi-user dungeon/domain) and their interactions [83]. He characterized the ways that people enjoyed playing MUDS as:

  1. Players are achievers who “give themselves game-related goals, and vigorously set out to achieve them.”

  2. Explorers are players who “try to find out as much as they can about the virtual world.”

  3. Socializers are players who “use the game’s communicative facilities, and apply the role-playing that these engender, as a context in which to converse (and otherwise interact) with their fellow players.

  4. Killers are players who “use the tools provided by the game to cause distress to (or, in rare circumstances, to help) other players.”

Stewart builds upon and expands upon Bartle’s original player styles [84] by synthesizing Keirsey’s theory of human temperaments [85] with Bartle’s player styles. Keirsey reduced the 16 personality types of the Meyers Briggs Model of personality types to what he called the Artisan, Guardian, Rational and Idealist.

These in turn were combined with Bateman’s model of gameplay preferences [86]. In addition to those of Bartle and Keirsey, Stewart adds those of Roger Caillois [87] and Nicole Lazzaro’s ideas on the “4 Keys to Fun” [88, 89]. Stewart also brings under his umbrella two models of game design: Ron Edwards’ Gamist/Narrativist/Simulationist (GNS) classification of playing styles [90] and the Mechanics, Dynamics, Esthetics (MDA) model [91]. The result is what Stewart calls the Unified Model. Stewart designed the follow table to illustrate how the play styles of the Unified Model relate to associated gameplay features as an aid to game design (Table 1).

Unified play styleAssociated gameplay features
Artisan/Killer/ExperientialistAction, vertigo, tool-use, vehicle use, horror, gambling, speedruns, exploits
Guardian/Achiever/GamistCompetition, collections, manufacturing, high scores, levels, clear objectives, guild membership, min-maxing
Rational/Explorer/SimulationistPuzzles, creative building, world-lore, systems analysis, theorizing, surprise
Idealist/Socializer/NarrativistChatting, role-playing, storytelling, cooperation, decorating, pets, social events

Table 1.

Stewart’s unified model of play styles [84].

While Stewart acknowledges that better theories of gamers preferences and play styles may yet be develop, he concludes that “there is remarkable agreement on the basic ways in which people want to express their playfulness as a function of a general personality style.” By demonstrating commonalities and overlap of these models the Unified Model provides constructive ways to think about and design for different player motivations “that will help developers create better games.” [92] provides gamification consultation for a range of sectors including financial services, insurance, education, government, health care, retail, travel & hospitality, telecommunications, manufacturing, and media and entertainment. identifies 108 gamification mechanics and breaks down users into similar categories as above: socializers, explorers, killers and achievers. A further component of gamification is to build in motivational core drives. Yu-kai Chou [93], has developed the Octalysis Gamification Framework that identifies the following eight core drives that motivate people to act:

  1. Epic Meaning.

  2. Accomplishment.

  3. Empowerment.

  4. Ownership.

  5. Social Influence.

  6. Scarcity.

  7. Unpredictability.

  8. Avoidance.

Chou gives a different twist and emphasis to the meaning and intention behind gamification: “Gamification is the craft of deriving all the fun and engaging elements found in games and applying them to real-world or productive activities.” Chou distinguishes between what he calls “Human-Focused Design,” as opposed to “Function-Focused Design.” Human-Focused Design optimizes for feelings, motivations, and engagement as a design principle in opposition to simple functionality and efficiency. Mechanics appeal to certain motivators as part the player’s motivational profile.

The Reese Motivation Profile assesses [94] 16 basic desires that “determine our values, predict our behavior, influence the development of our personality traits, and create harmony or conflict in our interpersonal relationships.” These empirically derived traits are acceptance, beauty, curiosity, eating, family, honor, idealism, independence, order, physical activity, power, saving social contact, status, tranquility and vengeance.

Others [95] haven taken a deeper dive into understanding motivational studies to further examine the theories of the growth mindset and intrinsic motivation, to develop a program of research to further the neuroscientific research in education. Cook and Artino [96] articulate intersections, commonalities, and differences between five theories of motivation noting “recurrent themes of competence, value, attributions, and interactions between individuals and the learning context.”

These five theories include expectancy-value theory, where. Motivation is interpreted as a “function of the expectation of success and perceived value.” Attribution theory looks at the “causal attributions” learners use to “explain the results of an activity… in terms of their locus, stability, and controllability.” Social- cognitive theory focuses on self-efficacy and self-regulated learning. Goal orientation theory “suggests that learners tend to engage in tasks with concerns about mastering the content (mastery goal, arising from a ‘growth’ mindset regarding intelligence and learning) or about doing better than others or avoiding failure (performance goals, arising from a ‘fixed’ mindset).” Self-determination theory proposes that actions can be “motivated by intrinsic interests or by extrinsic values that have become integrated and internalized.” While there is not space to examine these five theories in detail, it is worth noting that a deeper understanding of theories of motivation and the impact on education requires additional research.

These distinctions lead to the reconsideration of the long-standing critique of gamification which hinges on extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation. Dahlstrøm [97] underscores that gamification increases user engagement, through game like experiences “that afford intrinsic motivation in users.” Citing research [75, 98] the gamification trend initially focused on “implementing reward systems commonly found in games through elements such as points, badges and leaderboards.” Dahlstrøm concludes that gamification is not necessarily a “solution to a general lack of user motivation.” Games should be not only a reward system but rather “about goals, challenges, stories and the experiences” as part of the gameful experience. Dahlstrøm advocates for a meaningful experience that employs mechanics like points and badges to confer “a sense of competence and autonomy in users”. More recently, [99] critics point to uncertain and inconclusive results of gamification systems used in education settings.


5. Game-based learning

James Paul Gee [100] opened the door to the consideration of games as a sophisticated learning system. Learners willingly adopt roles and take on quests, missions, and goals in such a way that the game itself becomes an environment for learning. For Gee, learning is a core game mechanic and sees video gameplay as an inherently social activity that is contrary to common understandings of video gameplay as an isolating activity. Drawing upon his background in fields such as psycholinguistics and new literacy studies [101] he conceptualizes the activity of video gameplay as participating in a discourse community [102, 103]. He describes his own direct observation [104] of game playing as a prosocial activity in observing game play with his own children.

Gee listed [100] the following learning principles that are activated by well-designed video games:

Identity–Players explore new roles for interacting in virtual worlds.

Interaction–Players engage in content-rich discourse with non-playing and real characters.

Production–Players help determine the direction and outcomes.

of the game world through their decisions, players create representations or play to communicate in-game learning to external audiences.

Risk Taking–Learning results from experiencing failure, receiving feedback, and trying again. Games allow for repeated failure and customized feedback for learning.

Customization–Game worlds adapt to player preferences and playstyles.

Agency–Players react to the challenge of game play to achieve a sense of control over their actions.

Well-Ordered Problems–The game environment scaffolds challenges to support the development of player ability levels.

Just-in-Time in learning–Information in games is provided just as failure happens and just when players need guidance to correct their practices.

Situated Meanings–Play is integrated into a meaningful context.

Pleasantly Frustrating–Games guide players through failure from which they can learn.

Systems Thinking–Play involves navigation and sense making of layered, complex interconnected worlds.

Cross-Functional Teams–Players adopt roles coordinated through organized social groups.

Video games were celebrated as powerful learning environments in part due to how they engage players both individually and socially. The traditional classroom learning environment focuses on learning outcomes resulting in “teaching to the test” and less on authentic learning. Kurt Squire [105] proposed the concept of games as “designed experiences.” Through gameplay, students enact new identities within the classroom community of gamers. Through multiple performances of the adopted identity, the student player internalizes and instantiates theories of how the game world works leading to a richer understanding than merely focusing on outcomes.

Homer, Plass and Kinzer [106] indicate that game-based learning emphasizes play in the pursuit of well-defined learning outcomes [107], where a balance is sought between play game play and the need to deliver educational subject matter [108]. Homer et al. also distinguishes gamification from game-based learning, in that the former “involves the use of game elements, such as incentive systems, to motivate players to engage in a task they otherwise would not find attractive.” While acknowledging the ongoing debate over the definition of what makes a game, they shift to argue that play as “the essential activity in games—has long been thought of as a critical element in human development.”

Plass et al. [109] also argue for a comprehensive approach to game-based learning. Rather proceeding from a single perspective, they advocate for integrating “viewpoints of cognitive, motivational, affective, and sociocultural perspectives” that are essential for both game design itself and for game research.

Multiple perspectives inform the creation of learning environments based on games that foster actual engagement and achieve learning goals. Designing learning experiences from the cognitive perspective “can enhance learner engagement, make tasks meaningful and relevant, and adaptively respond to learner’s specific needs and conditions.” Understanding the motivational factors to rationalize the use of games for learning emerges from how games for entertainment engage players for extended periods of time and commitment. Affective foundations include the elements of narrative, esthetics, game mechanics, sound, and music. These elements can induce emotional responses to heighten learning. Other researchers, notably Gee [100, 104] point to the rich social interactions that emerge within communities of players both in collaborative or competitive play “may be one of the most important aspects of game-based learning.”

Homer et al. further advocate for the concept of “playful learning” which they define “as an activity by the learner, aimed at the construction of a mental model (a coherent representation of the information in memory), that is designed to include one or more elements of games for the purpose of enhancing the learning process.” Game designers, taking into consideration the learning goals, can implement playful learning environments that either fully games or are playful activities, having some game play elements. They distinguish playful learning as incorporating playful tasks where-as gamification adds “game elements to an existing task that may be unengaging, tedious, or boring.” Playful learning requires actual play!

Prensky has identified the generations who have grown up with digital technology and playing video games as Digital Natives [110]. Prensky suggests [111] that video games may be creating “people with special skills in discovering rules and patterns by and active and interactive process of trial error.” Prensky quotes Greenfield [112], who recognized that playing video games encourages “the process of making observations, formulating hypotheses and figuring out the rules governing the behavior of a dynamic representation is basically the cognitive process of inductive discovery…the thought process behind scientific thinking.”

Digital Natives who grew up playing video games do not read manuals. Rather they simply start learning the game by trial and error. In this “fearless environment” they assume the “software is supposed to teach” them how to use it. As gamers, they learn that failure is necessary for success. A well-designed game allows the player to learn through trial and error. Players know that a game can be beat and therefore continue playing [113] despite temporary failure. Players are resilient because they know their persistence will pay off. Mark Rober calls this the Super Mario Effect [114]. The player focuses on the end goal to save the princess rather than on the mistakes and failures. Gee [115] among many others [116, 117] hypothesizes that well designed games incorporate failure as part of learning. Games “allow players to take risks that might be too costly elsewhere, like classrooms, where failure is often seen as an end result [118]”.

Jane McGonigal [119], argues that games, unlike the real world, make it safe to fail. Instead, games offer a positive experience “We normally think of games as being fun, kind of trivial, maybe something to pass the time, but what if we thought about them as a platform for inventing the future of higher education?” McGonigal argued that playing games leads to a constellation of positive emotional effects that are essentially the opposite of depression. She advanced games as a cure for lack of engagement and for the potential to transform education citing the following positive effects:

(In descending order)








Awe and wonder.



A key element of game play is the activation of what Csíkszentmihályi [120] identified as the state of flow which is induced by pursuing a goal, confronting obstacles, increasing challenges and voluntary participation that characterizes the experience of playing a game. McGonigal points out that games quickly give immediate feedback [119]: “The result was a much faster cycle of learning and reward, and ultimately a sense of perfect and powerful control over a ‘microworld’ on the screen.” Prensky [111] describes this as one of the “pay off vs. patience” lessons learned by the Games Generation “if you put in the hours and master the game, you will be rewarded—with the next level, with a win, with a place on the high scorers’ list.” This is one among ten different cognitive styles that Prensky identifies that educators should take account of when teaching:

  1. Twitch speed vs. conventional speed.

  2. Parallel processing vs. linear processing.

  3. Graphics first vs. text first.

  4. Random access vs. step-by-step.

  5. Connected vs. standalone.

  6. Active vs. passive.

  7. Play vs. work.

  8. Payoff vs. patience.

  9. Fantasy vs. reality.

  10. Technology-as-friend vs. technology-as-foe.

Students in Prensky’s Game Generation are presumably more receptive to game-based learning as they are more accustomed to fast paced game play; tracking multiple game-play elements in parallel; rapidly switch focus in non-sequential ways; playing networked games and engaging in communities like Discord or Twitch; see the game world, characters and the esthetics before reading; actively engaging in play; grinding in a game is part of play; expecting rewards as the reward for persistence; grew up on a diet of pop-culture fantasy and because of their extensive experience playing games, are comfortable with technology and see it as a source of fun, entertainment and social connectivity.

Game-based learning affords the opportunity to do detailed assessments and track the progress of players-as-learners. Halverson and Steinkuehler [121] suggested that games can be a powerful research tool to generate and collect data on learning. They call for a “game ecology” that affords researchers “opportunities to assess the game-play skill of players, the degree to which players mastered declarative and procedural content, and the play experience.” However, writing in 2014, the authors note the current limitations of the commercial game industry “which include compelling game worlds and interaction spaces, but without clear models of learning assessment, and in academic game spaces, which are developing reliable learning tools, but without compelling game environments.”

The challenge for game-based learning remains how to make educational games that are engaging and are actually fun to play. Some efforts are made in defining what games are and then applying such definitions to game development.

The ambition of the Handbook of Game Based Learning [122] is to “help establish a solid empirical and theoretical foundation for the discipline of game-based learning that synthesizes and organizes existing research and sets a research agenda for years to come.” This is a comprehensive overview by leading practitioners, scholars, and researchers of what is now a mature field. Divided into four major parts, the handbook provides a three-chapter introduction to game-based learning; an overview of the theoretical underpinnings with four chapters discussing the cognitive, affective, motivational and the socio-cultural foundations of game-based learning. The third part offers eight chapters on practical guides to implementing instructional support with feedback and coaching; guides to providing self-regulation and reflection; adaptivity and personalization, use of narrative and multi-media; strategies of collaboration and cooperation along with emerging design principles for game-based design The fourth part features chapters that discuss gamed-based learning examples in science, math, engineering, technology, language learning, cognitive skill training and workforce learning. The final two chapters cover games for assessment and learning analytics which reflects Halverson’s and Steinkuehler’s earlier call [121] for a “game ecology” that affords researchers “opportunities to assess.” Indeed, popular contemporary game engines such as Unity or Unreal now offer sophisticated analytics which foster tracking and assessments of players in great detail.

The editors are in fact declaring that game-based learning is well-established on a firm theoretical foundation that is further supported by extensive empirical research, having well-established design principles and an ever-expanding library of use cases and successful implementations. The Handbook continues to advocate for, as discussed earlier in [106], a consensus regarding the complementary domains of inquiry–namely the cognitive, affective, motivational, and socio-political as important lens through which to view and understand game-based learning.


6. Discussion

Vygotsky’s [123] zone of proximal development (ZPD) is a road map for cognitive development and learning which provides a powerful way to conceptualize scaffolding. Playing a game and game development also mirror similar zones of proximal development. A gamer initially discovers “what I can do.” A game developer, especially when using the discipline of agile development [124] begins with identifying and listing doable tasks (e.g., programming) that they already have had experience solving such as using the arrow keys to control the playable character.

One of James Paul Gee’s observation is that playing video is often a social activity. Gamers exchange information on forums like Discord and elsewhere, on how to gain experience points, where to discover Easter eggs, beat level bosses and level up. Similarly, game development is more often done in teams. Agile development formalizes asking the question “what I can do next with help (if I need it)? ”.

Both gamers and developers also confront the question of “What I can’t do or don’t know how to do.” Game play and game development also share a methodology of test and iterate. Failure and do overs are part of the process. Gamers must repeatedly lose before they figure out how to beat the level boss. Game Developers make mistakes in programming or even are forced to abandon what appeared to be promising avenues of development or game mechanics.

But designing and building games is hard and time consuming. It takes time and money which are rare commodities for teachers and faculty. Games must be playtested and usability tested. For game-based learning there must be longitudinal assessments of large populations to reveal promising, statistically significant results.

Game development becomes the responsibility of professionals. Where does that lead teachers and faculty? Given limited resources, one option is to gamify the classroom to engage for meaningful learning and shift students from the obsession with grades.

Games are notable for their immersive engagement, fun, play and depending on the game design and genre competitiveness. The key element of fun is often elusive and is not always found in “serious” learning games.

Playfulness is also key ingredient. In Homo Ludens [125], Johan Huizinga defined play as “Play is a free activity standing quite consciously outside ‘ordinary’ life as being ‘not serious,’ but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it. It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner.”

Vygotsky [123] gave a different emphasis to aspects of play as an activity that is “desired” and “always involves an imaginary situation.” Play is governed by rules which are shared and understood by the players during or even in advance of the activity of play. For Huizinga [125], this activity forms what he called the magic circle:

All play moves and has its being within a playground marked off beforehand either materially or ideally, deliberately or as a matter of course. Just as there is no formal difference between play and ritual, so the “consecrated spot” cannot be formally distinguished from the playground. The arena, the card-table, the magic circle, the temple, the stage, the screen, the tennis court, the court of justice, etc., are all in form and function playgrounds, i.e., forbidden spots, isolated, hedged round, hallowed, within which special rules obtain. All are temporary worlds within the ordinary world, dedicated to the performance of an act apart.

Huizinga articulated five key elements of play:

Play is free.

Play is not “ordinary” or “real” life.

Play is distinct from “ordinary” life both as to locality and duration.

Play creates order, is order. Play demands order absolute and supreme.

Play is connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained from it.

Salen and Zimmerman [126] took Huizinga’s analysis further by discussing Gregory Bateson’s notion [127] of how “play occurs within a delimited psychological frame, a spatial and temporal bounding of a set of interactive messages.” A key element of play for Bateson is metacommunication between the players which lead Salen and Zimmerman to define that activity of play “as not just to follow the rules and rituals of play, but also to continually communicate the idea that the play-actions are just play and not something else.” This is a kind of double-consciousness (after Bateson) frames the simulation of the play activity. This is captured by Brian Sutton-Smith [128]: “Children know that they are manipulating their thoughts about reality, not reality itself; and they know that their play self is not the same as their everyday self.” This double-consciousness of the individual player through continual “metacommunication” with other players brings to life and sustains the magic circle during play.

The holy grail and rationale for gamification was to tap into the magic of gaming and play. Zichermann and Cunningham [129] define gamification as “The use of game thinking and game mechanics to engage users and solve problems.”

This definition of gamification does not reference play or fun or any of the elements discussed in the preceding paragraphs. Use of the term gamification served to capture the trend to introduce playful activities and game mechanics in marketing campaigns, product promotion, health and fitness, lifestyle and weight loss applications, political organizing, incentivizing customer loyalty, education and in serious games.

Sententia Gamification [130] is leader in gamification strategy design providing learning solutions for corporate trainers, human resource professionals, educational institutions, and independent consultants. Sententia offers a gamification certification program that introduces a variety of game mechanics (e.g., points, levels, challenges, rewards, chance, collaboration, scarcity, time limits, and leaderboards) where the “goal is to increase learning and engagement through key concepts found in game design and behavioral psychology.” By adding game mechanics to training, gamification presumably increases interest, but it also makes training ‘fun.’ A well-designed and well-implemented gamification program promotes engagement, meaning, mastery, and autonomy.”

Both gamification and game-based learning aspire toward fun through “serious” play. Both draw upon an extensive body of research and studies from a range of disciplines to provide theoretical underpinnings and give an evidence-based validity to their outcomes. An important distinction between game-based learning and gamification is revealed by the definition provided by Sebastian Deterding et al. [74] “as the use of game design elements in non-game contexts.” Game design elements are an add on where-as with game-based learning, the content and learning objectives are intimately bound to the game mechanics and game play.

A common criticism of gamification is that it relies primarily on extrinsic motivation where-as game-based learning incorporates intrinsic motivation sometimes in concert with the use of extrinsically motivating mechanics (e.g., experience points, leaderboards etc.). Hsieh [131] puts it this way: “Intrinsic motivation is triggered by human needs for mastery, curiosity, and overcoming challenges. Extrinsic motivation is relevant to elements not related to the task value, such as rewards, grades “performance and competition or evaluation by others.”

The distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation follows from self-determination theory. By reviewing self-determination theory, Ryan and Deci [64] make the following distinction “between behaviors that are volitional and accompanied by the experience of freedom and autonomy—those that emanate from one’s sense of self—and those that are accompanied by the experience of pressure and control and are not representative of oneself.” Thus, intrinsically motivated behaviors “satisfy the innate psychological needs for competence and autonomy.” Extrinsically motivated behaviors “are instrumental to some separable consequence.” Ryan and Deci acknowledge that extrinsic motivations can be aligned with self-determination through internalization and integration as: “the processes through which extrinsically motivated behaviors become more self-determined.” Some mechanics can function as triggers and others as rewards. Mechanics appeal to certain motivators and core desires as part the player’s motivational profile. An argument in defense of gamification is that a well-crafted, gamified experience aligns the operational mechanics to core desires. This in turn, is sufficient to induce fun.

Both gamification and game-based learning understand play as essential. To ensure playful learning, Homer et al. [132] point to the following key principles:

Playful learning is intrinsically motivating.

Playful learning depends on a break from reality.

Playful learning requires a polytheoretical approach.

New technologies provide new opportunities for playful learning.

Playful learning requires an integration of play and learning.

As noted earlier in this chapter, the Handbook of Game-Based Learning Plass et al. [109] propose a polytheoretical approach which includes research into the cognitive, affective, motivational, and sociocultural domains: “For game designers, our approach suggest that the integration of multiple perspectives of learning is required if games for learning are to reach their full potential.”

Schwartz and Plass [133] outline a research agenda to collect empirical evidence from each of these domains. They propose a full spectrum understanding “taking into account learner differences, types of engagement, identifying patterns and processes of engagement and the relationship to learning outcomes.” By doing so they seek to redefine engagement as “the active and focused investment of effort in a game environment.”

Pushing the boundaries of research beyond the boundaries prescribed by the polytheoretical approach that addresses the cognitive, affective, motivational, and sociocultural domains for game-based learning, the National Institute for Play (NIFP) identifies the three broad areas of research into the nature of play [134]:


Behavioral Science.

Ethology (animal behavior).

A deeper dive into the area of neuroscience, as listed above can further distinguished the disciplines examine play, yielding further research are listed below:

Affective neuroscience (how emotions function in the brain).

Behavioral neuroscience (the connections between brain function and behavior).


Developmental neuroscience (how our brains develop).

Evolutionary biology.


From these different disciplines, this research compiled by NIFP provides and very different lens through which we can begin to understand and appreciate the importance of true play. This is seen in this assertion:

When the play circuits in the midbrain are triggered, the related neurons create a cascade of activity in our higher brain functions. The more often this happens—the more often we play—the more those neurons connect and the stronger those pathways get. The neural connections created when we play are the brain wiring patterns that give us better control over our movement, our thoughts, and our emotions.

NIFP simply asserts that “play is central to leading healthy, productive human lives.” As researchers explore the neurocorrelates of play and their impacts on affective, behavioral, biological developmental and evolutionary factors and results are published, these results will deepen our understandings that build upon the research agenda as outlined in the Handbook of Game-Based Learning.


7. Conclusion

This chapter does not attempt to define or appeal to any one definition of what constitutes a game. That is a topic beyond the scope of this one. This chapter, on the other hand, started with a review of some of the criticisms concerning grading and some of the current trending alternatives, such as ungrading and grading contracts. Conventional grading practices are a blunt instrument that obscures different learning styles and needs. Student focus on grades distorts and undermines true learning and should be replaced by a range of assessment strategies that incorporate Universal Design. The goal is to remove the stress, fears and obsession with grades that conventional assessment practices engender and at the same time motivate and engage the learner. Sometimes referred as “ungrading,” the adoption of these strategies prioritizes the progress of each individual student and re-envisions learning as a series of achievements that students complete and level-up to take on a series of successive challenges based on previous accomplishments not unlike the playing of a video game. Grading contracts can shift the responsibility and engagement to the learner. Scholarship and research into motivation and theories of engagement yield insights into the efficacy of gamification and game-based learning strategies. A multi-theoretical approach through the lenses of the cognitive, affective, motivational, and socio-political domains is needed to address the full spectrum of the needs and learning styles of learners for engagement and motivation.

This chapter also briefly, revisited core themes of play, through a brief discussion of Vygotsky, Huizinga, and others’ critical framing of how we perceive and experience games and play. Both gamification and game-based learning seek to harness the power of play to engage to motivate learning and skill acquisition.

Gamification can suffer from a reliance on extrinsic motivation that risks the some of the same drawbacks as conventional grading. Game-based learning in some respects is a better solution but is at times impractical especially for the busy teacher without the resources to build games and therefore must rely on the entertainment and educational industries to offer solutions in the marketplace.

The challenges presented by neurodiversity, gender, racial bias, both implicit and explicit in the classroom, remain persistent. This calls for a multifaceted approach requiring flexibility, resources and commitment informed by continuing research. Both gamification and game-based learning seek to tap into players voluntary commitment to play and are rewarded by the sense of mastery of new skills and achievement. The motivation for this approach to ensure equity and inclusion in the classroom by creating a compassionate environment to enhance student engagement and learning.

Successful gamification and game-based learning experiences aspire to induce intrinsic motivation that is based upon the psychological need for “competence, autonomy and relatedness” while engaging with others. These are features of core desires and motivations intimately bounded to learning styles and play styles that foster a sense of freedom, autonomy and self-determined behavior that is aligned with the player’s sense of self and identity.



I acknowledge the support of Quinnipiac University and the College of Arts and Sciences, 2022–2023 Scholarship and Grants Committee.



I am grateful for the insights provided by the one-day online workshop and post conference Gamification Certificate program conducted by Sententia Gamification ( as part Serious Play 2022 (



Agile Development [124]: Most agile development methods break product development work into small increments that minimize the amount of up-front planning and design. Iterations, or sprints, are short time frames (timeboxes) that typically last from 1 to 4 weeks. This minimizes overall risk and allows the product to adapt to changes quickly.


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Written By

Gregory Garvey

Submitted: 18 June 2022 Reviewed: 20 June 2022 Published: 18 August 2022