Quest Virtual School

Why Gamification Works: Essential Element #1 - Options

Gamification of Education

Why Gamification Works: Essential Element #1 - Options

Are you more engaged in work that is assigned to you or work that you choose to take on? As adults, we appreciate autonomy in the workplace. In fact, I would bet that some of your best work is done when you have complete autonomy over your project. Why then, in classrooms across the country, do teachers maintain tight control over the content delivery, process by which the content is learned, and products students create to demonstrate mastery?

The main reason students are relieved to leave school and come home to play games is because they are in control of the game. In the classroom, students feel they have little or no control over what they are going to learn, how they are going to learn it, or how they are going to demonstrate mastery. Learning is standardized. Therefore, one of the most important elements in the gamification of education is to offer students options.

When students have options, agency comes into play. Agency refers to the capacity of students to act autonomously and to make their own free choices. In games where the agency level is high such as World of Warcraft, Minecraft, and many other Role Playing Games (RPG's), engagement is also high, and therefore the potential for learning is high as well.

What can schools and teachers learn from this? Offer students options! In an ideal educational world, options should be offered over content, process, product, and learning environment. While Quest Virtual School offers all of these options for a personalized learning experience, not all schools can. However, differentiation is a best practice at many schools and differentiation can go hand-in-hand with offering students options. Listed below are specific ways teachers can offer their students options in their classrooms.

Differentiating Content

Provide students with the option to learn content through their preferred learning style. Get started by offering visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning options for the content. Check out the resources above to help you differentiate content.

Videos can also be a great way to incorporate various learning styles. Many teachers have started screencasting lessons that students can watch on their device in class, or at home. Two great, free screencasting options are Jing and Screencast-O-Matic.

When creating videos for your students, consider the length. A good rule of thumb is that the maximum length of the video should be no longer in minutes than the age of the student. For example, if you teach 11 year old students, the longest your video should ever be is 11 minutes. If you find that your video needs to be longer than 11 minutes, break it into 2 shorter videos.

For specific ideas on how to differentiate by other learning styles, check out this Edutopia article. Edutopia also has a quick and easy quiz to help identify preferred learning styles here.

Differentiating Process

We may want all of our students to arrive at the same destination but does it really matter how they get there? It is easiest to shepherd all students down the same learning pathway, one after the other, hoping that every student is learning what they should be along the way. But not all kids learn in the same way. One way to differentiate process is to figure out where the students are now and where they need to be. Then, allow opportunities for students to get from point A to point B in multiple ways. A great tool to use for planning this is Popplet.

Popplet is a simple tool that allows users to organize their ideas with mind mapping. Begin building multiple learning pathways by starting with point A, ending with point B, and then brainstorming multiple ways students could navigate learning between both points. Then try allowing students the opportunity to decide which pathway to take.

Different learning pathways could involve offering a variety of instructional strategies and activities for students to select from, and pacing instruction based on individual student needs. A shout-out to Ms. Beard who has an incredible YouTube channel filled with teacher video tutorials for various tech tools including a variety of instructional uses. Check out her YouTube channel here.

Differentiating Product

Allow students to decide how they would like to demonstrate mastery of content. You can give students choices, a "Think Tac Toe" board where they select a few product options, or a menu of options from which to choose. If you decide to go this route, consider offering options that push students into Higher Order Thinking (HOT) activities.

A huge shout-out to Mr. Roughton, a teacher who has mastered differentiating product while incorporating in Higher Order Thinking skills into his Choose Your Own Adventure Assignments. Check out his massive menu board here.

Differentiating Learning Environment

Involve students in selecting their learning objectives. Learning contracts are a great option for differentiating the learning environment. Click here to see an example of a learning contract.

Allow students to create their own rubrics for assessment. Allowing students to decide how they would like to be assessed helps them to invest and engage in their learning. Click here for some great rubric creation options.

Of course, if you are ready to give up complete control and allow students to self-select a topic of interest, consider a 20% project. A 20% project is when the students get to use 20% of their class time to explore anything that interests them. Some teachers call it "genius hour". Click here to explore resources for 20% projects. Allow your students the opportunity to amaze you!

Quest Virtual School

Quest Virtual School is an online, fully gamified, private school serving grades 6-12. At Quest Virtual School, we flip learning on its head. Instead of online classes consisting mainly of passive learning experiences, our online classes are built using game mechanics such as badges, experience points, levels, and leaderboards. Our students “level up” throughout their educational careers and personalize their learning experience by getting to select quests with which they want to challenge themselves. This provides students with the autonomy to truly master content. The future of education is now and it is engaging, exciting, and personalized.


We are dedicated to improving the educational experience for all students through a quest based learning journey that is personalized for each individual, is engaging, relevant, student-centered, innovative, and prepares students to excel in a rapidly changing global community where problem solving, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration skills are essential for success.