Gamification and The DigiLit Leicester Context

John Ashley

This image was shared by John Ashley under a creative commons license

Back in May, I successfully completed a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) in Gamification. The course was hosted by Coursera and instructed by Kevin Werbach, Associate Professor of Legal Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and leading figure in Gamification.

My first attempt at writing a blog post about Gamification was hijacked by general thoughts on MOOCs and then I had a hectic summer full of data analysis and report writing. So, now that I am back to business as usual, I felt it was high time I got this post out. I wanted to reflect on what I learnt throughout the Gamification course and how it might be applied to The DigiLit Leicester Project context.

What is Gamification?

Gamification is ‘the use of game elements and game design techniques in non-game contexts’ (Werbach and Hunter 2012, p.26).

It may help to break this down. So game elements are those aspects of a game which make it engaging; for example, points and awards, levels, competitive or collaborative social aspects. But these are not enough on their own, simply adding these to a non-game context does not mean you have created a gamified system. It is crucial to think like a game designer, to consider how a player progresses through a system. There needs to be the right degree of challenge, with sufficient support for new players. The key is to get them playing, and keep them playing – and this requires a certain type of thinking (game design technique).

Finally, non-game contexts are any situation where game elements and design techniques are employed for a purpose other than playing the game itself. Gamification has become very popular in the business sector and we are beginning to see it spread over to education – with initiatives such as Mozilla’s Open Badge Infrastructure being used to accredit educational achievements.

An interesting example highlighted by Werbach throughout the course is the Swedish Speed Camera Lottery. The basic concept behind the system is that every time a person passes the speed camera driving at or under the speed limit, their registration plate is entered into a lottery. The camera still catches those who speed and the fines are used to pay lottery winners. It has been a successful scheme, with average speeds dropping from 32km/h to 22km/h since the cameras were installed. This example highlights the potential of gamification for supporting behaviour change and reinforcing positive behaviours.

How to Gamify effectively

In order to support others in developing gamified solutions, Werbach and Hunter created The Design Framework – six steps necessary for implementing a successful gamified system:

Define Business Objectives

What is the problem you are trying to solve? What is the purpose of the system you wish to gamify? What are the main goals of the system?

Delineate Target Behaviours

What are you trying to encourage your players to do? What behaviours will achieve your objectives? How can you measure if these behaviours are being displayed? (is it the number of users to your service/website? is it how fast your profile rises?)

Describe Your Players

Who are the people you wish to engage in your system? What makes them tick? What type of people are they? How can you use this knowledge to inform the design of your system?

Devise Activity Cycles

Games don’t work along linear pathways, but activity cycles. A player’s actions will spark some response which will in turn provide feedback to the user or provoke activity from other users. There are two types of activity cycle: the engagement loop – which looks at the micro level of the game, a players every action and the reaction of the system – and the Progress stairs – the macro level of the game, the player’s overall journey through the system.

Don’t Forget the Fun!

Is your system actually fun? Is it engaging? Will players want to keep coming back to get involved?

Deploy the Appropriate Tools

This step is added last to highlight the importance of considering your users and the design of the system before choosing game elements to work with. The purpose of the system should always drive the choice of mechanism, not the other way around.

How to know if Gamification is right for you

It is important to note that gamification isn’t always the answer – therefore you need to consider the needs of your situation before deciding whether or not to apply the gamification technique. Werbach and Hunter advise the consideration of the following core questions:

Motivation: Where would you derive value from encouraging behaviour?

Gamification is all about increased motivation – and if you’re problem can’t be solved by increased motivation then gamification probably isn’t for you this time.

Meaniningful Choices: Are your target activities sufficiently interesting?

In order to stay motivated, players must feel a sense of autonomy and a reason to want to participate. If this is lacking people won’t stay engaged for long.

Structure: Can the desired behaviours be modelled through a set of algorithms?

Gamification relies on algorithms – “If [action] occurs, player is rewarded with [badge, points, etc.]”. The algorithms create the success criteria for a player, helping to define whether something has been completed satisfactorily or not. If you are unable to quantify the success criteria, to build a structure for assessment, then gamification will not work for you.

Potential Conflicts: Can the game avoid conflicts with existing motivational structures?

It is important to be aware of existing reward systems before attempting to implement a gamified system, to avoid possible conflicts. For example, in a context built around priviledges and bonuses, a leaderboard is likely to be inaffective, if not a negative addition – as those lowest on the board are likely to give up and disengage.

The DigiLit Leicester Project

Key to the success of the DigiLit Leicester Project, is the engagement of teaching staff across the City. The data we collected from the survey has been used to inform individual school summaries which will in turn help schools and the authority to identify areas of practice which require additional support. In the new academic year, activity across the city will be focused on these areas – this may involve school-based projects, city wide initiatives, the creation of CPD resources and training opportunities.

In order to make the most of the project, we need staff to engage with the activities that we co-ordinate. There should be a certain degree of intrinsic motivation in our project, since engagement with the activities will enhance teachers’ own professional development. However, some staff may be reluctant, particularly if they are less confident in their use of technology to begin with, and it is these members of staff that we need to provide extra motivation for. It could also be argued that there is no harm in making professional development a little more fun.

It is clear that what we are aiming for is increased motivation and, to a certain extent, behaviour change – encouraging staff to participate more in sharing best practice, which may not be common practice for all staff. There is certainly potential for a gamified system to support this project – the next step is to consider the The Design Framework and to think about the practicalities of implementing such a system.


Werbach, K. and Hunter, D. (2012) For The Win: How game thinking can revolutionize your business. Wharton Digital Press: Philadelphia.

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