Gamification in adult education

If you haven’t read John Hefferman’s blog post a few weeks ago titled “Player Two?” you should. John’s post is about e-sports within education and compares students wanting to kick a football around outside and online gaming in competitive leagues. A thought-provoking post about ‘teaching students where they are at’ rather than where we have decided they should be. 

John’s post references online gaming with school-age students. Do adult learners have the same perceived desire for online gaming as their younger counterparts? Maybe, maybe not. I am, however, adamant gamification can lift engagement levels for adult learners. Before I explain further, let’s look at what gamification refers to. 

What is gamification?

Gamification is when we apply elements of gaming to our primarily non-game based learning environment. It is potentially more easily understood and less complex than one would think because it does not necessarily involve the use of digital technology. Indeed, many of us have been ‘gamifying’ our teaching and learning experiences for a long time. Gamification can be as simple as using a quiz, scoreboards or competitions.

Gamification in adult education

As highlighted in EPALE’s blog post on this very topic, some challenges exist, including the fact, that as an educator, you need to ensure the gaming elements you are implementing are closely linked to the learning outcomes. Additionally, with adult learners, these links need to be explicit. 

Some examples which I have found have worked in the past to add excitement and engagement with adult learners include introducing a competitive aspect, timed challenges, fun-based challenges, such as Kahoot or GimKi,  and having leaderboards/scoring based team challenges. In each case, the addition of these gaming characteristics were specifically linked to learning content. In most cases, the activities were also team-based. What I would highlight here is that these elements would be short, simple and be low stakes in the early stages of building relationships. As learners become more comfortable with each other, I would introduce more complex and interdependent gaming elements with higher stakes (i.e. the main strategy used to meet a particular learning outcome). 


Some examples (outside of Kahoot which is a gamification tool I highly value!)

Team challenges in finding and presenting facts on a particular topic where the criteria include a prize for the most engaging presentation of accurate facts. I have had some of the most memorable learner experiences doing this. This value has been even more pronounced when a competitive element exists alongside an inclusive environment that promotes risk-taking. Learners have blown me away with their ability to critique information, work collaboratively, be creative in their presentation and be accepting of others who have taken a risk. 

A guess our fact/s game, where teams again explore the facts and develop a ‘guess our fact presentation’. Teams then present to the whole class without stating the actual fact and class members try to be the first to identify the fact being presented. As the educator, I review the team’s guess who/what facts to identify misinformation before the whole class ‘game’ begins. I would use this as a consolidation activity where we had already covered the material rather than a high stakes inquiry-based learning experience. 

Team’s crossword challenge, these work great in an online format using breakout rooms. Teams would be set up, all teams would receive the same crossword and start at the same time. The first team to complete the crossword correctly would ‘win’ and again I would have a simple prize. (Adults or children, who doesn’t enjoy winning a prize?!)

Reconstruction task where teams work together to be the first to correctly reconstruct an article or set of facts etc. This task works well in class or online using breakout rooms. I have used this primarily as an introduction task – it is too fast-paced to ensure the learning is definitive and a team can get lucky, nonetheless, it is a collaborative fun way to introduce potentially otherwise unengaging content. 

Scenario-based experiences where learners would navigate their way through a character-based story choosing between two-three possible reactions or responses. In doing so, the learner is encouraged to compare and contrast information as well as view scenarios from different perspectives. During this task learners must actively engage with the content and make decisions before discovering whether or not their chosen response would lead to a positive or less favourable outcome for the character. These scenarios can be created using images/texts/audio/videos with links to various subsequent slides in Google Slides or PowerPoint.


In conclusion, gamifying teaching and learning, in my opinion, is not new. It can be digital, it can involve paying for access to online platforms but it can also be hands-on using traditional in-class tasks. I would argue gamifying is every bit, if not more, valuable to adult learners than younger learners. As we explore what technology has to offer further in terms of gaming, challenge and scenario-based learning, digital badges, artificial intelligence and virtual reality, we should continue to utilise all strategies that have the potential to increase engagement. 

Scroll to Top