Want to engage your students by incorporating gamification into your classes? This blog post shares four design principles for creating gamified activities and discusses factors to consider in order to design with accessibility in mind.

Design Principles

Breaking down elements of successful gamified activities and ensuring that they are considered in your design process creates a great starting point. After reviewing a wide range of research and available literature, Andrew Stott and Carman Neustaeder of Simon Fraser University identified four critical components for devising gamified activities: 

  1. Freedom to fail
  2. Rapid feedback
  3. Progression
  4. Storytelling

These key design principles are not limited to gamification but can also be applied to general pedagogical design as well.

Freedom to Fail

Freedom to fail is an ethos which embraces mistakes and acknowledges that experiential learning — testing, tripping, and picking oneself up — is an integral part of the journey towards mastery. As the instructor, you can create a classroom environment that encourages students to take risks by keeping the stakes of engagement low.

When designing and facilitating gamified activities, consider these fundamental questions:

  • How will you establish an atmosphere shaped by the freedom to fail?
  • Do you already offer low-stakes learning opportunities? Or are there activities in your course which you could lower the stakes for?
  • What strategies will you employ to underscore the value of risk-taking and foster a mentality that circumvents the perils of an all-or-nothing approach?  
  • What tangible mechanisms will you employ to make the activity both feasible and challenging for all students?

Rapid Feedback

It is critical to maintain a quick turnaround time of feedback for iterative tasks and to make yourself available for technical and instructional support. To accomplish this, fostering a community of learners who support, encourage, and collaborate with each other can be helpful.

When you design gamified activities, reflect on these guiding questions:

  • What technical and logistical support will your students require, and how can you adequately cater to those needs?
  • When and how will you provide feedback during (as well as after) the game that addresses students’ intellectual, critical, and collaborative engagement?


Leveraging progression can be a useful tool to boost student motivation. For example, students may be able to objectively track their progress through accumulated points and achieved milestones in the game. Coupling experiential learning with reflective practices can also foster intrinsic motivation, as students have the opportunity to appreciate and acknowledge their own skill development. This reflection component is important for progression to be purposeful because, in educational gamification, the end goal isn’t to complete the game: it’s for students to actively engage with the content.  

In your design process, contemplate the following:

  • How can you effectively channel student attention in a way that is manageable, targeted, and stimulating?
  • How can you incorporate opportunities for self-reflection at different stages of engagement with the game?


Educational researchers emphasize the significance of “authentic” tasks and challenges. Storytelling delivers this authenticity by constructing an immersive learning environment that mirrors real-life scenarios. It brings the game or simulation to life to ensure the course feels significant and valuable. Your students should not just feel like they are aimlessly playing, but rather that they are striving towards learning objectives by tackling genuine issues.

As someone designing these experiences, think about these elements:

  • How can you infuse gamified activities with a sense of urgency, challenge, and personal and intellectual significance?
  • How can you discover and nurture aspects of the game that resonate with all students, not just a select few?

Designing for Accessibility

Incorporating gamification in education brings to the forefront the critical issue of accessibility. Gamification can expose barriers to engagement, such as differing levels of digital literacy, varied gaming experiences, personal identities, and varying levels of access to digital tools among students, including those with disabilities. It’s essential to view accessibility not as an afterthought, but as a fundamental principle in your gamified instructional design.

Consider adopting the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework, which rests on the understanding that accessibility is beneficial to all students. We also recommend that you incorporate multiple forms of participation to cater to varying levels of gaming familiarity and experiences.

As you plan, reflect on these questions:

  • What assumptions am I making about students’ prior knowledge or experiences?
  • Are there tools that could pose accessibility challenges?
  • What expectations might students have about their participation??
  • Do I require any digital tools not supported by the institution?
  • Can I provide at least three alternative engagement methods for a given activity or assignment?

You can maximize the effectiveness of gamification in the classroom through the application of design principles and a commitment to accessibility, ensuring an enriching experience for both educators and students alike. If you want to learn more about gamification and what resources and tools are available, check out the links listed below.