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Introduction and scope of the paper

Though in nascent stage, gamification in higher education is gradually gaining traction as a modern tool for both teachers and students to enhance both learning outcomes and learning scenarios. In simple terms, a game in educational context puts ‘play’ at its center in a themed approach to propel students to achieve desired academic goals. More formally, we can also define a gamification as one consisting of activities and processes by one or more students, following a specific set of rules and competing with one another to achieve a preset achievement goal or to solve problems.

Gamification framework and strategy are too tech-heavy to include in this paper. Instead, I propose to focus on the behavioral side of gamification in higher education rather than its hardware and software. This is because tools are only ‘means’ to achieve ‘ends’ and are handled by humans whose effective use is the key to successful learning outcomes.

Why is it relevant to the community?

In one abstract phrase :”to be future-proof”. When technology brings education to our doorstep in ways unimagined before, fostering learner achievement, it is imperative to adopt and reap the benefits of the new technology. Hence the relevance of gamification in education to the community.

Modalities of Attendees’ interaction

To turn this traditional lecture format into a ‘dialogue of learning’, I have included some questions in this abstract with the hope that more supplementary questions will be generated out of them to facilitate deeper learning.


  • To understand the behavioral concepts underlying the gamification in higher education.
  • To explore the diverse behaviors of students participating in gamification.
  • To gain insights into the causes of aberrations in student behavior and how to put them back on track.
  • Finally, to appreciate how students can enhance their learning.

Theoretical framework: Theories of engagement and flow

Engagement theory: According to Csikszentmihalyi, Schneider, and Shernoff (2003), the level of the student’s engagement is directly proportional to the combination of his/her own skill and the perceived degree of challenge of the task at hand.

Flow theory: Flow is the optimal mental state during the process of gaming, that the gamer gets fully absorbed in the activity that is challenging and enjoyable. A game can induce two extreme states of emotions. On one extreme, if the skill is more than what the activity required, it results in boredom. On the other, if the activity demands more skill than the gamer has, then the gamer enters into a state of anxiety. In between lies the optimal state of ‘flow’ where the activity is challengingly difficult but performable within or by stretching the gamer’s skill set.

Implications of engagement and flow theories in higher education

  • The flow theory helps educators create learning scenarios with conditions that balance the skill and challenge of students, clear goals, timely feedback and learner-controlled activities.
  • The engagement theory enables teachers to monitor students’ level of concentration and focus, anxiety management and perception of distorted time passage.


  1. Is it easier said than done to match or stretch the individual student’s skills with the level of challenge posed by the task at hand?
  2. If so, how do we stretch the skills for progressively challenging activities?
  3. How do we rescue and manage those in the anxiety zone in the game?
  4. Is a game always interesting to every student? If not, how do we make it so?
  5. How can we define an ‘activity’ in a game? How broad or narrow it should be?

Students’ perceptions and behaviors in gamification in educations

Playful Experience (PLEX) Framework

Korhonen, Montola, and Arrasvunori (2009), in their research study on the emotional experiences of game players, classified 20 types of playful experiences termed as PLEX.

Kim (2013) took the research findings further forward by exploring the referred experiences of the students. His research revealed some interestingly diverse patterns in experiences of male and female students. While challenge, simulation and thrill were unique motivators for male students, female students were more inclined towards discovery. Strangely enough, fantasy, a preferred experience enjoyed by female students is one of the least preferred ones by male students.

Types of gamers

From a practical point of view, of concern to teachers and educators are those termed as griefers and rule-breakers. Griefers are those that harass and tease other gamers within the game. They want to get a reputation no matter what the other gamers think about them. Some of the griefer type gamers enjoy getting a bad reputation. Rule breakers are those who bend the rules for finding shortcuts to achieve the goal, often through the wrong way. For them, ends are more important than means. Playful experiences” of competition, control, discovery, and subversion in the PLEX framework dominate rule breakers’ characteristics.

Managing griefers

In the context of higher education, the classification of griefers’ behavior falls into two types, namely, instrumental aggression and hostile aggression Woolfolk (2006). Instrumental aggression uses both psychological and physical means to hurt other students to achieve a particular goal rather than any intent to cause pain. In contrast, hostile aggression is a deliberate intent mainly to make other students feel pain either physically (called overt aggression) or emotionally by isolating them from other social groups (called relational aggression). The following strategies help keep the griefers in check

  • By knowing what could go wrong and prevent it.
  • By detecting with the help of special electronic devices to monitor student behavior and identify griefers.
  • By restoring the status quo of the victimized students and punishing the griefers.
  • By taking corrective measures to modify the behavior of griefers though counselling

Managing rule breakers

Rule breaking is more a psychological issue than a technical issue. While technologies such as mobile apps can keep track of such behaviors, more can be achieved by personal counselling by teachers, parents and psycho-analysts in keeping rule breaking in check.


  1. Do you think that the griefers and rule-breakers, even in minority, can demotivate other students in fully realizing the gains from gamification?
  2. Other than the teachers, who else should shoulder the prime responsibility to correct the behaviors of those outliers?
  3. How can educators balance between being military-strict and being generous in enforcing the discipline on the campus?


Online Learning Consortium (OLC) Accelerate Conference


Orlando, FL


College of Business and Management



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