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Benefits of gamification in online courses


Dec 22, 2020
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Thinking about adding an element of gamification to your online courses? You should. It’s one of the best ways to increase engagement and to boost customer retention.

Think about the role that games play in our culture. People have long sat around card tables, playing everything from poker to monopoly, and digital gaming has created an entirely new subset of avid gamers.

E-learning gamification uses the mechanics of games, like rewards, points, levels, and competition to educate your customers and help them grasp new concepts.

And the best part? You don’t need a degree in computer programming to harness this strategy. In fact, you can even use gamification without any technological prowess at all.

If you’re interested in using education gamification, we’ll guide you through the process of introducing gaming elements to your e-learning strategy.

What is gamification in education?

A picture of a student writing on a classroom chalkboard

In education, gamification is a way to boost learning through gaming mechanics. It capitalizes on the human desire to meet an objective, achieve a goal, outperform peers, and “level up” through a series of challenges.

In traditional gaming, people play for money, bragging rights, or mere entertainment. Education gamification adds an e-learning component that allows people to absorb and retain more information. Since it feels like gaming, it feels less like learning, which can make your online courses more engaging.

Think about your days in elementary school. You might have played with flashcards and Bingo boards. Your teachers might have initiated games like Around the World, Hangman, and Jeopardy.

You probably enjoyed those games more than you liked filling in worksheets or reading out of a textbook.

Adults are really no different and those same principles work, especially for millennials.

In an article for the Huffington Post, entrepreneur Amanda Schneider reports that a necessary shift is taking place in the workplace from productivity to engagement. Schneider credits gamification as a major catalyst in this shift. So, how can you use gamification to make your online courses more powerful?

How to gamify your online course

A picture of colored pencils and a wooden ruler

How can you apply e-learning gamification to your own online courses? It’s easier than you might think.

Start with a goal. For instance, what do you want your customers to learn by the end of the course? You might already know this from planning the course or by testing it with a small group of customers with a trial-run mini course.

Once you know the answer, figure out how you can turn the process into a game. In other words, apply strategies from online and offline games to your course material.

Let’s say, for example, that you’re teaching a course on personal development. You could create a challenge that allows your customers to earn points or badges as they pass through certain stages or modules of the course.

Create a quiz that allows customers to answer questions on personal development. Depending on their answers, they’re either directed to the next question or given a reason why they chose incorrectly. After they’re able to answer all of the questions correctly, they get a badge.

You can make the game as simple or as complex as you like. Here are a few strategies that you can use to gamify your online course.

1. Challenges

All games need challenges. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Decide right away what challenges you want your customers to meet. Should they answer timed quiz-type questions? Will they go through a journey where they gain new information as they overcome obstacles?

The right challenges depend on the type of course you create. You can use scenarios, quizzes, polls, and other online modules to help your customers meet the challenges you set for them.

With Kajabi, you can easily create assessments for your online courses and gamify the experience for your students.

In most cases, challenges are single serve. In other words, the customer completes the challenge, then moves on to the next module.

2. Quests

A picture containing graphical user interfaceDescription automatically generated

Quests are similar to challenges except that they take longer and involve more modules. You’re asking your customers to go on a journey with you, collecting points, tokens, badges, and other rewards along the way. There’s often an element of storytelling involved.

Think of this aspect of gamification as your own version of the Holy Grail tale (hopefully not the “Monty Python” version’). You’re taking your customers on a quest to achieve something related to your course materials, such as a final test or challenge.

Quests often involve maps or other visual representations of the journey. Your customers can chart their progress as they conquer various challenges and collect tokens or rewards along the way.

3. Rewards

Colorful Gamification Badges - Downloads - E-Learning Heroes

People play games primarily because of the rewards system. They complete a challenge and receive something in return.

It doesn’t have to be tangible. For example, you could use badges as rewards.

You can design your own badges or download them from stock sites. Either way, make them consistent. Badges often feature trophies and other symbols of accomplishment to help your customers feel good about themselves when they accomplish difficult tasks.

Of course, badges aren’t the only potential source of motivation. You could also use elements like: 

  • A points system
  • Public recognition
  • VIP privileges within your course
  • Monetary rewards (like a discount code on your next course)
  • Digital certificate of competition
  • Leaderboards to create some healthy competition (we’ll get into this a little later)

4. Storytelling

No, you don’t have to write a book or a screenplay to incorporate e-learning gamification into your course. However, you can use storytelling to immerse your customers further into the world that you’ve created.

You could create a character (either a person or a fictional character) who guides the customer through the e-learning process. This character introduces scenarios or problems related to the course material. Your customers must choose correctly for the character when prompted to answer a question or choose the next step.

5. Unlocking

If you’ve ever played online games before, you know that unlocking is part of the fun. When you reach a new level, you unlock fresh rewards or achievements that help you with future parts of the game. You can do the same when you implement e-learning gamification into your course.

Customers could unlock white papers, videos, webinars, and other gated content that isn’t available as part of your standard course. Make sure that these value-added pieces of content are worth the effort your customers have to put forth to earn them.

6. Feedback

Don’t forget to include a way to give feedback to your customers. They want to know that they’re learning efficiently and that they can come to you if they have questions or concerns. Creating a communication channel as part of your online course will help with this.

Feedback can be as simple as sending a quick congratulations to your students when they pass certain parts of the gamified experience. You could also incorporate automatic feedback into the game.

When customers reach a specific level, they receive a pat on the back. Try offering a virtual high-five and a few words of motivation to encourage users to continue the process.

7. Student interaction

How to Boost Engagement on your LMS with Leaderboards

Many people play games like Solitaire and enjoy themselves, but most games involve multiple people. You can create leaderboards to show who is moving through the game the fastest. For instance, this tactic could be used to create a community within your online course.

Forums and other communication tools can also allow your customers to interact with each other. They can help each other get “unstuck” at challenging parts of the game and commiserate over difficult accomplishments.

Even if you don’t have a leaderboard, you might consider making badges and other rewards public. These allow customers to show off their skills and prove that they successfully completed specific levels of your e-learning course.

8. Rules of the game

Before you launch an education gamification course, make sure you write detailed rules for everyone to follow. These rules must be enforced evenly among all customers to avoid creating problems and fostering negative feelings.

In most cases, the rules won’t be difficult or complicated. You simply want everyone to know that they should not use extraneous resources to find answers to puzzles or questions. Instead, they should follow the prescribed journey instead of skipping around.

Examples of gamification in education

Looking for inspiration?

Check out these two brands that get e-learning gamification right.


A screenshot of the Duolingo homepage

You might have heard of Duolingo, which is both an online experience and an app that represents the essence of education gamification. Its goal is to teach people new languages for free.

Once you sign up for Duolingo, you can choose the pace at which you want to learn as well as the language you’re interested in. From there, you’re taken to your own dashboard, which displays the learning modules and your progress. Each day, you unlock new levels that take you deeper into the learning experience.

You can also use strengthening tests to continue practicing your language vocabulary. Participating in these modules improves your score and helps you earn badges.

As you progress through the program, Duolingo gives important insights. For example, it will tell you how fluent you’ve become in the language in the form of a percentage.

For instance, if you decide to learn Spanish, you can be 4 percent fluent by the time you finish the first set of modules.

It’s visual, immersive, and detailed, but it’s also simple. You just work through each of the levels, collecting lingots (rewards that you can use in the online store).

Duolingo also spaces out the online learning experience. You can only work through one level per day, so you’re forced to return every day to continue your education. If you stick to it and visit every day, you build up “streaks”.

You’ll also notice that you can connect Duolingo to Facebook. This creates student interaction that’s crucial to any e-learning gamification strategy. As you build fluency in a specific language, you can compare your pace to others who are also working toward fluency.

All of these features combine to create an exciting experience that wouldn’t work as well without the game mechanics involved.

Khan Academy

A screenshot of the Khan Academy iOS app
A screenshot of the Khan Academy iOS app
A screenshot of the Khan Academy iOS app

Another great use of gamification in the e-learning space is Khan Academy. Users of almost any age can utilize this app or online experience to learn a variety of subjects.

Khan Academy allows people to select an e-learning course and assigns mastery points to each course section. As users progress in their lessons, they gain more and more mastery points.

At any point in the course, users can complete a course challenge that should only take a certain amount of time.

Khan Academy does a great job of using creative, high-impact language, intuitive UX, and gamification to get users excited about learning.

When you take a Khan Academy course, there’s no question about it. You will feel a sense of competition against yourself to learn your subject matter and complete course challenges with flying colors.

Benefits of gamification in e-learning

Gamifying your digital product will require some work, but there’s big payoff for doing so.

There are several benefits of e-learning gamification for both the course creator and the student, including:

  • Providing motivation
  • An improved learning experience
  • An enhanced learning environment
  • The ability to provide instant feedback
  • Chances to prompt behavioral changes
  • The ability to cater to all learning needs and styles
  • An impact on your financial bottom line
  • The visual component of learning
  • Differentiate from the competition

All of these benefits help create more effective teaching tools for your online courses, no matter your industry or genre.

Furthermore, the benefits of gamification in e-learning are replicable. You can use the same system over and over again to reap exponential rewards. Each time someone signs up for one of your online courses, you can introduce the gamification aspect of the digital product to boost engagement.

Let’s take a deeper look at the benefits of gamification in education.

Set yourself apart from the competition

People can find free information all over the Internet. Some of it is high-quality and some of it isn’t, but the information is there. As an online course creator, you’re asking people to pay you for information that they can most likely find online for free.

That’s why you need a unique value proposition or a differentiating factor. Something needs to set you apart and convince prospects that your online courses are worth the price you’re charging.

Gamification adds a new dimension to your online course, so make sure to promote it once you implement it.

Let people know that you’re offering a fun new way of learning about a particular topic. This could be just the thing to tip the scales in your favor and help you make more money.

Our Kajabi Heroes prove that you can become an entrepreneur through online courses. However, you need a winning strategy that helps you convince prospects that you’re worth their cash. E-learning gamification can take you one step closer to that goal.

Gamification is a source of motivation

A picture of a hand of playing cards

Have you ever played poker? If so, you probably felt motivated by the desire to best your opponents and to win money from your friends. We’ll even go as far as suggesting you also wanted to secure bragging rights.

Motivation can come in many forms, but in games, there are several psychological principles at work. When you apply them to education, you can easily motivate people to learn faster, work harder, and retain more information.

E-learning gamification uses points, badges, and other game elements to motivate participants toward a goal. Students are excited to learn quickly because they want to receive that next reward.

Another benefit of gamification is that there’s an undeniable element of competition. And competition can be a big motivator.

Creating leaderboards that show how students stack up against each other (e.g. who has the most badges) can help motivate those who are ahead to stay on top, and those who are falling behind to work harder.

Better learning experience

Some people love to learn, while others feel less passionate about it. However, everyone has to learn if they want to improve their skills, achieve their goals, and advance in their careers and hobbies.

If you can create a better learning experience, you’ll easily set yourself apart from the competition. What does this mean for you? More customers, of course!

If you ask people what they don’t like about learning, they might list several complaints:

  • There’s too much reading.
  • It takes too much time.
  • The process is boring.
  • They don’t understand the benefits.

Each of these complaints can be resolved through gamification.

  • Reduce reading by providing information in shorter, smaller bursts.
  • Hasten the learning process by teaching through game mechanics.
  • Add an element of fun to the process.
  • Show clear and actionable benefits through the game.

A better learning experience allows more people to gain advantages from your online e-learning courses. They’ll feel more connected to the material and more motivated to reach the next level or conquer the next goal.

Plus, if you’re creating a community with your online courses, your customers can communicate with one another and with you. This adds a level of human connection and exclusivity to the online learning experience.

Better learning environment

A relaxed learning environment can help people absorb information more readily and hang on to it for longer periods of time. In fact, a 2002 study concluded that “[a] relaxed learning environment can provide effective retrieval cues, as well as improve learning.”

The report went on to say that “the assessment of learning should also take place under relaxed conditions.” In other words, people learn more easily when they’re able to absorb information under relaxed conditions and when their knowledge is also tested in a more informal setting.

That’s practically the definition of gamification.

Instead of providing information in a rigid structure and giving rigorous tests and quizzes that put the customer under strain, you’re providing a relaxed learning environment that helps people find ways to remember information more clearly.

It also helps your customers learn how to teach themselves. In other words, they’re setting their own pace, reviewing the materials on their own schedule, and participating in the “games” when it’s most beneficial to them.

Instant feedback

We live in a world of instant gratification and short attention spans.

We’re bombarded with information every day and simultaneously have the ability to make split-second buying decisions.

Want a new pair of shoes or a laptop? Order it on Amazon and receive it within 48 hours. Interested in watching a television show? Just queue it up on Netflix.

Since we’re conditioned for instant gratification, we also appreciate instant feedback. We want to know how we’re doing, what we’ve learned, and how we compare with everyone else. E-learning gamification facilitates this process.

Your customers can figure out exactly where they stand by participating in gamification and accruing points, badges, and other rewards. In some cases, depending on how you set up the system, they can also see how they stack up against the “competition.”

Prompting behavioral change

You might have heard about (or even participated in) the recent fitness craze surrounding mobile apps. It’s a form of gamification that encourages people to make healthier decisions.

From the Fitbit to the Apple Watch, there’s no shortage of technology to help you stay healthy and fit. But why does it work?

People know how to make healthy choices, but they often need extra motivation to actually make those choices. It might seem strange that something as simple as an app can help people choose salad over pizza. Or even an evening jog over a night in front of the television. Yet it happens.

It’s because gamification actually changes people’s behavior. It prompts them to make different decisions based on what they can achieve through game mechanics. If they know they can earn another badge, maybe they’ll be willing to complete another module of your online course.

It’s all about achieving the next goal.

It’s simple human nature. And one of the most interesting parts about gamification is that about 70% of gamers are over the age of 18 and most are women. Knowing your demographic can make a profound impact on your customers and their experience with your product.

Whether people notice it or not, each level of a gamification sequence makes subtle changes in the user’s behavior. He or she begins to see patterns, then applies those patterns to future decisions or actions.

Can be applied to most learning needs

It’s true that people learn in different ways. You might prefer to hear things because you can remember sounds more easily than written words. Alternatively, you might understand spatial dynamics better than formulas. In that case, you’re more inclined toward visual cues when you’re learning.

The great thing about e-learning gamification is that it appeals to most learning needs and styles. There are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic components, all of which combine to help people learn more efficiently.

Making learning visible

In some cases, learning is all about relationships. Think of the typical classroom environment. Instructors often group students together to work on projects and hold class discussions. The camaraderie can help facilitate quick learning.

The same benefits can come from e-learning gamification.

You’re creating an environment that revolves around visible indicators of progress. Additionally, there’s a community aspect to gamification that makes e-learning fun and exciting.

Both relationships and visual cues can enhance online learning. These strategies can also take some of the pressure off of you as you administer your online course.

If you can automate at least part of your gamification strategy, you can focus on creating more online courses and other digital products. And from these products you can generate revenue.

Use gamification to improve your online course

E-learning gamification sounds like a tech-heavy term, but it’s really not.

You can create a game out of something as simple as a PowerPoint deck, with question and answer slides. There are also plenty of free tools you can use to create quizzes for your online education product.

You just need a bit of creativity and the desire to improve your online course.

Set up challenges and quests for your customers. Use storytelling and unlocking to help move your customers through the process and reward their progress with badges and points.

Give feedback along the way to encourage them. You should even consider interacting with your customers directly. Most importantly, make sure that everyone understands the rules of the game to keep things fair.

Education gamification allows you to motivate your students, cater to different learning styles, and create a more effective learning environment. These benefits alone are enough to set yourself apart from the competition and drive sales.

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Benefits of gamification in online courses
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