Engagement: A Critical Element in Learning and Gamification

If you want to have effective learning engagement, in gamification or any type of learning, you need to consider carefully how to grab and hold the learner’s attention.

You need to develop approaches to engage the student.

A learner needs to be engaged with the learning process through activities, decision making and responding to stimuli. While this seems straightforward, most students are used to playing passive roles in the classroom and not being engaged during the teaching process. (Gibson, 2009).

Sitzmann (2011) found individuals learned more, relative to a comparison group, when simulation games actively, rather than passively, conveyed course material. Although not looking at gamification specifically, the principle of engagement within games is a required element for learning within gamification design. Merrill (2009. P. 47) describes that learning is enhanced when learners actively engage in interaction.

Salen and Zimmerman (2004) identify a model that presents four modes of interactivity or levels of engagement that a person may have within an interactive system such as a game. I think the same model can be used when you think about and design a gamification interaction or again, other types of instruction. .

Mode 1: Cognitive interactivity or interpretative participation. This is the psychological, emotional, and intellectual engagement between a person and a system. This is the act of becoming concerned about how many points can be earned in structural gamification or wrestling with a difficult challenge in content gamification. To foster this type of engagement, the teacher sets ground rules, clearly describe the motivation aspects such as a leaderboard or level of challenge and provide the rules and parameters of the gamified experience.

Mode 2: Functional interactivity; or utilitarian participation. Included here are functional, structural interactions with the material components of the system. This is the interface between the student and the gamification event, the input screen or the materials to support an in-class gamification experience. These are established prior to a student engaging within the gamification experience.

Mode 3: Explicit interactivity or participation with designed choices and procedures. This is overt engagement, the act of making choices such as clicking on a button or selecting a card from a deck. This level of interactivity is where students are answers questions and receiving points in structural gamification or clicking on a character to hear what she has to say in content gamification. These are the “in-process” activities undertaken by the students.

Mode 4: Beyond-the-object-interactivity; or participation within the culture of the object. This s interaction outside the designed gamification system. This might include “cheat sheets” that students create to help them within the gamification experience. The notes taken and shared, and even digital assets such as screen captures taken and sent via text messages to other students. These are the informal instructional artifacts that students create to help teammates and friends in both collaborative and competitive gamification experiences.
Creating and managing an environment of engagement requires the development of a structure that challenges students from the beginning and forces them to consciously make cognitive decisions and choices throughout the gamification experience.


Gibson, J.T., (2009). Discussion approach to instruction. In C. M. Reigeluth, A. A. Carr-Chellman (Eds.), Instructional-design theories and models: Vol. 3. Building a common knowledge base. (pp. 99-116). New York:Taylor and Francis.

Merrill, D. M., (2009) First principles of instruction. In C. M. Reigeluth, A. A. Carr-Chellman (Eds.), Instructional-design theories and models: Vol. 3. Building a common knowledge base. (pp. 41-56). New York:Taylor and Francis.

Salen, K. & Zimmerman, E. (2006) The game design reader: Rules of play Anthology: Caillois: The definition of play, the classification of games. The MIT Press: Cambridge, MA.

Sitzmann, T. (2011) A meta-analytic examination of the instructional effectiveness of computer-based simulation games. Personnel Psychology (Vol. 64, No.2, pp. 489-528).

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