Gamification is a growing trend in the field of digital language learning, but also plays a very important role in contemporary classroom practice. It is a proven an effective way to motivate learners and increase learner engagement.

What is gamification?

Gamification involves the use of game techniques in non-game contexts. There are two types of gamification procedures used in language training:

Structural gamification

This generally involves the use of game mechanics at a structural level in a language management system. It involves aspects such as points, levels, rewards, and leaderboards to structure and manage the learning process. This is implemented over the whole learning system and accompanies the students throughout their entire learning journeys. Structural gamification is not only used by companies like Duolingo, but also many other online services who have adopted a system of points and badges.

Content gamification

Content gamification takes place at the activity level and involves quizzes, puzzles, and games to make the learning process fun and exciting. This is generally implemented on the content level and can vary from activity to activity. Teachers often use tools like Kahoot or Wordwall to create gamified activities in the classroom. There are a multitude of external websites offering games for digital language learning.  

Does gamification trivialize corporate language training?

It is a mistake to think of gamification as being limited to content like hangman or crosswords, as it is also about the application of gamification elements to digital learning. These are actually common elements of digital education such as feedback, points, progress reporting, progress bars, certificates, badges, microcredentials, badges and awards. These ideas have emerged from gamification and help create a motivating and fun environment for the learning process to take place. Many of these features originated from behaviorist,  constructivist and cognitive learning theory. Gamification elements are all of these essential elements which are already in place in most self-paced digital learning systems.

Benefits of gamification

When it comes to language learning, most people have extrinsic motivation, which means that the motivation is external. This could be a parent, a teacher, or a supervisor at the employee’s company.

One of the major benefits of using gamification in language learning is that it helps to increase intrinsic motivation. This is the motivation that comes from within when you really want to do something because you need to do it for yourself. Elements of gamification can help to motivate learners intrinsically since they are self-directed and actively participate in the learning process, thus increasing engagement and the achievement of learning objectives.

Gamification also helps to provide immediate feedback and rewards, which can help to boost learner confidence. The learning achievement becomes much more visible through progress indicators like progress bars and badges. Students are able to collect points and accumulate virtual rewards and feel ownership of their learning.

Another advantage of gamification is that it can help to break down language learning into small, manageable microlearning tasks, thus making it easier for learners to reach their goals. Learners are able to control their learning and maintain productivity in their normal daily lives.

There are a number of key elements which are part of a gamified learning experience.

Immediate feedback

Continuous feedback functions as a form of positive reinforcement for the learner, showing their progress towards the achievement of learning outcomes. This behaviorist ideal is very effectively implemented in a digital, self-learning product because of the ability of digital systems to provide continuous feedback. This can be enhanced if the designer can second guess the users’ potential errors, providing a sort of “hidden teacher” effect. Feedback is structured around the learner’s mistakes, so that they can learn by trial and error.

In the modern AI age, it is also possible for create a system in which unique feedback is generated in real time without human intervention. For example, an advanced digital learning system could use an adaptive dialogue, in which the response is determined by the user’s choice. The learner can actively take part in a conversation as if they are talking to a real person. AI will eventually be able to provide quality feedback on a range of production tasks like speaking and writing, so that digital learning will be able to improve in areas where it was traditionally weak, such as independent practice and language production. This will give birth to a new era in self-paced learning.

Progress indicators and symbols of achievement

Some examples of progress indicators are points, badges, and leaderboards, which are also called PBLs. They provide a motivational tool which allows learners to track their progress and encourages them to stay focused on their goals. This creates a competitive environment within the course structure, which often leads to improved performance and engagement.

Points are effective motivators for learners, allowing them to track their progress and achieve goals. In language learning, points can be used to reward correct answers, and encourage users to complete difficult tasks, or consolidated to track their general progress throughout the course. In digital learning, correct answers are awarded points, and this data is accumulated for reporting purposes which becomes a valuable learning metric that has added value to stakeholders.

Badges are a great way of recognizing a user’s accomplishments in specific areas of the product and that can be used to further motivate users. Badges can be awarded for completing a certain number of levels, completing a specific task, or achieving a certain score in the product. They are a fun element for learners who respond to positive reinforcement: Badges can also take the form of microcredentials which are based on competencies and skills.

Leaderboards are a powerful tool that can be used to motivate users by showing their ranking in comparison to other users. Leaderboards can also provide a competitive nature to the learning process and create a sense of accomplishment that the user can strive for.


One of the most straightforward ways to engage learners is through narrative. This could take the form of a soap opera running through an entire course, or mini stories. This technique allows you to use narrative to give context for the target language and functions you wish to teach. A structural narrative can be a way to bind together the divergent elements of a language syllabus and supply the missing element of continuity. The user can also take part in the narrative from a “point-of-view” perspective, which allows them to immerse themselves into the story.


A lot of people have had positive experience of playing games, and this element of fun is crucial for a successful language learning product. Games are a great way for users to practice the language and increase their motivation when engaging with the learning product. The positive experience of gaming can also be leveraged in education, as learning products are more accessible to a younger audience.

Scaffolded learning

Scaffolding is a popular and effective tool used when teaching a new language. The idea behind scaffolded learning is to build up an individual’s understanding of the language by introducing more complex concepts as they gain knowledge over time. Most gamers know this as a system of “levels” with increasing difficulty and higher levels of challenge. A gamified learning system, constantly motivates the user to reach the next stage, overcome all of the challenges, and reach mastery.

Social connection

Social connection is an important aspect of any digital language learning product. Gamification encourages collaboration and encourages learners to compete with each other and learn together, so the social aspect of classroom learning can be retained in the digital environment. This can be achieved through a range of features such as messaging, forums, and peer-to-peer correction. Allowing users to interact with each other can be an effective way to build a community of active learners that can help each other reach collective learning goals. This is one of the most powerful tools of gamification that it helps create a learning community.

Player control

Player control is a crucial element of any digital language learning product. It allows users to tailor the experience to their own individual needs and preferences. Control elements can include the ability to set goals, select topics and texts, and track progress. It is necessary to create elements that allow for learner choice and the ability to consume content in a non-linear fashion.

One of the most interesting gamification theorists is Yu-kai Chou. He has written the following about gamification in learning:

In my own view, gamification is the craft of deriving fun and engaging elements found typically in games and thoughtfully applying them to real-world or productive activities. This process is what I call “Human-Focused Design,” in opposition to what we normally find in society as “Function-Focused Design.” Human-Focused Design optimizes for human motivation in a system as opposed to optimizing for pure functional efficiency within the system.(Chou 2014 -16: 8)

Chou proposes the Octalysis Framework as a guideline for gamification in digital learning. The Octalysis Framework is a gamification design framework that helps designers create more engaging and effective gamified experiences. The framework consists of eight core drivers that can be used to motivate users and drive behavior change. Here are the eight drivers and why they are important:

Epic Meaning & Calling

This core driver refers to a person’s personal mission, and their belief that they are doing something greater than themselves. If you want to implement this in your digital training, use a strong narrative element. It helps to supply future-orientated themes that deal with contemporary issues and explore the bigger picture. The learner becomes the protagonist of their own learning story.  

Development & Accomplishment

This is the core driver for learner progress and involves the symbols of achievement like progress tests, progress bars, points, badges, levels, and certificates. The learner is rewarded with symbols to show skills development has really taken place, and the challenges have been overcome. However, course designers should not create unreachable goals or create situations where goals are unattainable that could demotivate the learner. The learner needs to be able to feel a sense of skill achievement regardless of their skill level.

Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback

This is the driver which inspired learners to choose and try out different things. It is implemented in digital learning by allowing learners the ability to choose, whether it be pathways or other non-linear content. The learner should be offered meaningful choices and not be overwhelmed with options. Learners who reach goals and overcome challenges can enjoy a milestone unlock, which gives then exciting new levels/features to explore. This empowers the learner to become a learning explorer.

Ownership & Possession

This is the driver which allows you to collect your own your own virtual property. For example, a lot of learning systems will reward learners with status points and collections of badges. The system will send notifications when these virtual assets are in danger of being lost because of lack of engagement. Users are often motivated to login to preserve their digital assets.

Social Influence & Relatedness

This driver incorporates the social elements of learning, including peer pressure, social norms, mentorship, social feedback, social acceptance, companionship, competition, and envy. This can be implemented in learning systems by allowing for peer-to-peer correction and feedback. Learning platforms often include a forum in which users can introduce themselves to other users, post on the forum and comment on/like other users’ posts. Learners also appreciate share buttons so they can post their badges and certificates on social media.

Scarcity & Impatience

If something appears to be unattainable, you want it even more. The best way to implement this is to restrict content until certain milestones have been reached. In this way, knowledge checks and tests can be restricted to a limited number of attempts, or the time allowed to complete these activities can be restricted. New activities are locked until certain milestones are reached, and surprise activities can be unlocked as a reward. As gamers proceed through computer games, learners should progress through the material without having the possibility to jump forward.

Unpredictability & Curiosity

When you’re uncertain about what’s coming next, or when something doesn’t fit into your typical pattern recognition cycles, your brain enters a heightened state and becomes attentive to the unexpected. To implement this driver, employ a lot of variety in the flow of activities so it is not predictable and boring. If you are using narrative, use a strong story line with an element of mystery and cliff hangers between stages. Include elements of choice and variety of extras to explore.

Loss & Avoidance

This is negative reinforcement, which involves performing a behavior to precent an adverse stimulus. It’s the motivation to avoid something negative from happening. Nobody wants to loose the badges that they have gained, so push notifications will warn users that they need to stay on track and stop that from happening. We are forced to engage with materials rather than loose our progress.

Overall, the Octalysis Framework provides a useful framework for understanding the various drivers of motivation and behavior change and can help designers create more engaging and effective gamified experiences.


Gamification has a wide range of benefits for digital language learning products. It can be used to increase motivation, engage learners, and create a fun, competitive environment in which people can learn a language. Through the implementation of continuous feedback, points, badges, leaderboards, narrative, fun, scaffolded learning, and player control, language learners can have a much more enjoyable and engaging experience. Gamification of learning is so much more than just a few games based activities like hangman or crosswords. It is a unifying principle of educational design.

For further information on the Octalysis Framework go to:

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