Gamification research in educational settings has produced mixed results on student learning outcomes. Educational researchers and practitioners both struggle with identifying when, where, and how to use gamification design concepts. The present study provides findings from a meta-analysis that integrated the empirical, quantitative research on gamification in formal educational settings on student learning outcomes. This was achieved by examining the overall effect size, identifying which gamification design elements (e.g., badges) were used, and determining under what circumstances (e.g., engineering education) gamification works. The final corpus of data included 30 independent studies and associated effect sizes comparing gamification to non-gamification conditions while accounting for N = 3083 participants. The overall effect size using a random-effects model is g = .464 [.244 to .684] in favor of the gamification condition, which is a small to medium effect size. We examined 14 different gamification design elements (e.g., leaderboards) and showed that each leads to different effects on student learning outcomes. Further, the type of publication (e.g., journal article), student classification (e.g., undergraduate), and subject area (e.g., mathematics) are also investigated as moderators. We provide a discussion of our findings, some recommendations for future research, and some brief closing remarks.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Alomari, I., Al-Samarraie, H., & Yousef, R. (2019). The role of gamification techniques in promoting student learning: A review and synthesis. Journal of Information Technology Education Research, 18, 395–417. https://doi.org/10.28945/4417.
Antonaci, A., Klemke, R., & Specht, M. (2019). The effects of gamification in online learning environments: A systematic literature review. Informatics, 6(3), 32. https://doi.org/10.3390/informatics6030032.
*Arnab, S., Bhakta, R., Merry, S. K., Smith, M., Star, K., & Duncan, M. (2016). Competition and collaboration using a social and gamified online learning platform. 10th European Conference on Games Based Learning: ECGBL, 19–27.
*Barrio, C. M., Muñoz-Organero, M., & Soriano, J. S. (2016). Can gamification improve the benefits of student response systems in learning? An experimental study. IEEE Transactions on Emerging Topics in Computing, 4(3), 429–438. https://doi.org/10.1109/TETC.2015.2497459.
Bedwell, W. L., Pavlas, D., Heyne, K., Lazzara, E. H., & Salas, E. (2012). Toward a taxonomy linking game attributes to learning: An empirical study. Simulation & Gaming, 43(6), 729–760.
*Bernik, A., Bubaš, G., & Radošević, D. (2018). Measurement of the effects of e-learning courses gamification on motivation and satisfaction of students. 2018 41st International Convention on Information and Communication Technology, Electronics and Microelectronics (MIPRO), 806–811. https://doi.org/10.23919/MIPRO.2018.8400149
Bloom, B. S. (1965). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. New York: David McKay Company Inc.
Borenstein, M., Hedges, L. V., Higgins, J. P., & Rothstein, H. R. (2011). Introduction to meta-analysis. Chichester: Wiley.
Buckley, P., & Doyle, E. (2016). Gamification and student motivation. Interactive Learning Environments, 24(6), 1162–1175.
*Chen, C. C., Huang, C. C., Gribbins, M., & Swan, K. (2018). Gamify online courses with tools built into your learning management system (LMS) to enhance self-determined and active learning. Online Learning, 22(3), 20. https://doi.org/10.24059/olj.v22i3.1466.
Cheng, L., Ritzhaupt, A. D., & Antonenko, P. (2019). Effects of the flipped classroom instructional strategy on students’ learning outcomes: A meta-analysis. Educational Technology Research and Development, 67(4), 793–824.
Cohen, J. (1992). A power primer. Psychological Bulletin, 112(1), 155–159. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.112.1.155.
Cooper, H. (2017). Research synthesis and meta-analysis: A step-by-step approach (5th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
*Cosgrove, P. J. (2016). The Effects of Gamification on Self-Efficacy and Persistence in Virtual World Familiarization (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10355/56469
*de-Marcos, L., Garcia-Lopez, E., & Garcia-Cabot, A. (2016). On the effectiveness of game-like and social approaches in learning: Comparing educational gaming, gamification & social networking. Computers & Education, 95, 99–113. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2015.12.008.
Deterding, S., Dixon, D., Khaled, R., & Nacke, L. (2011). From game design elements to gamefulness: defining gamification. In Proceedings of the 15th international academic MindTrek conference: Envisioning future media environments (pp. 9–15). ACM.
Dicheva, D., Dichev, C., Agre, G., & Angelova, G. (2015). Gamification in Education: A Systematic Mapping Study. 15.
Dick, W., Carey, L., & Carey, J. O. (2005). The systematic design of instruction. 6th Ed. Pearson.
*Domínguez, A., Saenz-de-Navarrete, J., de-Marcos, L., Fernández-Sanz, L., Pagés, C., & Martínez-Herráiz, J.-J. (2013). Gamifying learning experiences: Practical implications and outcomes. Computers & Education, 63, 380–392. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2012.12.020.
Duval, S., & Tweedie, R. (2000). Trim and fill: A simple funnel-plot-based method of testing and adjusting for publication bias in meta-analysis. Biometrics, 56(2), 455–463.
*Eunsik, K., Rothrock, L., & Freivalds, A. (2016). The effects of Gamification on engineering lab activities. IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE), 2016, 1–6. https://doi.org/10.1109/FIE.2016.7757442.
*Frost, R. D., Matta, V., & MacIvor, E. (2015). Assessing the efficacy of incorporating game dynamics in a learning management system. Journal of Information Systems Education, 26(1), 59–70.
*Ge, Z.-G. (2018). The impact of a forfeit-or-prize gamified teaching on e-learners’ learning performance. Computers & Education, 126, 143–152. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2018.07.009.
*Grivokostopoulou, F., Perikos, I., & Hatzilygeroudis, I. (2016). An innovative educational environment based on virtual reality and gamification for learning search algorithms. 2016 IEEE Eighth International Conference on Technology for Education (T4E), 110–115. https://doi.org/10.1109/T4E.2016.029
Hamari, J., Koivisto, J., & Sarsa, H. (2014, January). Does gamification work?--a literature review of empirical studies on gamification. In 2014 47th Hawaii international conference on system sciences (HICSS) (pp. 3025–3034). IEEE.
Hanus, M. D., & Fox, J. (2015). Assessing the effects of gamification in the classroom: A longitudinal study on intrinsic motivation, social comparison, satisfaction, effort, and academic performance. Computers & Education, 80, 152–161.
*Haruna, H., Hu, X., Chu, S. K. W., Mellecker, R. R., Gabriel, G., & Ndekao, P. S. (2018). Improving sexual health education programs for adolescent students through game-based learning and gamification. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15(9), 2027. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph15092027.
Hattie, J. (2008). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Abington: Routledge.
*Hew, K. F., Huang, B., Chu, K. W. S., & Chiu, D. K. W. (2016). Engaging Asian students through game mechanics: Findings from two experiment studies. Computers & Education, 92–93, 221–236. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2015.10.010.
Higgins, J. P., & Thompson, S. G. (2002). Quantifying heterogeneity in a meta-analysis. Statistics in Medicine, 21, 1539–1558.
*Homer, R., Hew, K. F., & Tan, C. Y. (2018). Comparing digital badges-and-points with classroom token systems: effects on elementary school ESL students’ classroom behavior and English learning. Educational Technology & Society, 21(1), 137–151.
*Lam, Y. W., Hew, K. F., & Chiu, K. F. (2018). Improving argumentative writing: Effects of a blended learning approach and gamification. Language Learning & Technology, 22(1), 97–118.
Landers, R. N. (2014). Developing a theory of gamified learning: Linking serious games and gamification of learning. Simulation & Gaming, 45(6), 752–768.
Landers, R. N., Bauer, K. N., Callan, R. C., & Armstrong, M. B. (2015). Psychological theory and the gamification of learning. In T. Reiners & L. C. Wood (Eds.), Gamification in education and business (pp. 165–186). Cham: Springer.
Landis, J. R., & Koch, G. G. (1977). The measurement of observer agreement for categorical data. Biometrics, 33, 159–174.
Lipsey, M. W., & Wilson, D. B. (2001). Practical meta-analysis. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Mekler, E. D., Brühlmann, F., Tuch, A. N., & Opwis, K. (2017). Towards understanding the effects of individual gamification elements on intrinsic motivation and performance. Computers in Human Behavior, 71, 525–534.
Moher D, Liberati A, Tetzlaff J, Altman DG, The PRISMA Group. (2009). Preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses: The PRISMA statement. PLoS Med, 6(7), e1000097. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed1000097.
*Moritz, S. C. (2017). Examination of Badges to Increase Nursing Student Engagement: A Quasi-Experimental Study (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest. (10258458)
Mory, E. H. (2004). Feedback research revisited. Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology, 2, 745–783.
Ortiz, M., Chiluiza, K., & Valcke, M. (2016). Gamification in higher education and STEM: A systematic review of Literature. 6548–6558. https://doi.org/10.21125/edulearn.2016.0422
*Ortiz, M., Chiluiza, K., & Valcke, M. (2017). Gamification in computer programming: Effects on learning, engagement, self-efficacy and intrinsic motivation. The 11th European Conference on Games Based Learning (ECGBL 2017). 507–514
Orwin, R. G. (1983). A fail-safe N for effect size in meta-analysis. Journal of Educational Statistics, 8(2), 157–159.
*Özdener, N. (2018). Gamification for enhancing Web 2.0 based educational activities: The case of pre-service grade school teachers using educational Wiki pages. Telematics and Informatics, 35(3), 564–578. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tele.2017.04.003.
*Rachels, J. R. (2016). The Effect of Gamification on Elementary Students’ Spanish Language Achievement and Academic Self-efficacy (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/doctoral/1246/
*Rachels, J. R., & Rockinson-Szapkiw, A. J. (2018). The effects of a mobile gamification app on elementary students’ Spanish achievement and self-efficacy. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 31(1–2), 72–89. https://doi.org/10.1080/09588221.2017.1382536.
Richardson, M., Abraham, C., & Bond, R. (2012). Psychological correlates of university students’ academic performance: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 138(2), 353–387.
Rosenthal, R. (1979). The file drawer problem and tolerance for null results. Psychological Bulletin, 86(3), 638–641.
Rosenthal, R. (1995). Writing meta-analytic reviews. Psychological Bulletin, 118(2), 183.
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68–78.
Sailer, M., Hense, J. U., Mayr, S. K., & Mandl, H. (2017). How gamification motivates: An experimental study of the effects of specific game design elements on psychological need satisfaction. Computers in Human Behavior, 69, 371–380.
Sailer, M., & Homner, L. (2019). The gamification of learning: A meta-analysis. Educational Psychology Review. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-019-09498-w.
Scheiter, K., & Gerjets, P. (2007). Learner control in hypermedia environments. Educational Psychology Review, 19(3), 285–307.
Seaborn, K., & Fels, D. I. (2015). Gamification in theory and action: A survey. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 74, 14–31.
*Shurley, K. A. (2018). Enhancing the Acquisition and Retention of the Navajo Language Using Computer-Based Instruction and the Effects of Static Pedagogical Agents and Gamification Practice (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest. (10809069)
Sterne, J. A., & Egger, M. (2001). Funnel plots for detecting bias in meta-analysis: Guidelines on choice of axis. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 54(10), 1046–1055.
*Su, C. H., & Cheng, C. H. (2015). A mobile gamification learning system for improving the learning motivation and achievements. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 31(3), 268–286.
*Su, C. H., & Su, P. Y. (2015). Study on 3D meaningful mobile gamification learning outcome assessment: An example of blood circulation lesson. Applied Mechanics and Materials, 764–765, 1395–1399. https://doi.org/10.4028/www.scientific.net/AMM.764-765.1395.
Subhash, S., & Cudney, E. A. (2018). Gamified learning in higher education: A systematic review of the literature. Computers in Human Behavior, 87, 192–206. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2018.05.028.
*Sullivan, A. L. (2018). Open Badges and Student Motivation: A Study of Their Relationship to Student Assessment Scores (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest. (10748817)
Sung, Y. T., Yang, J. M., & Lee, H. Y. (2017). The effects of mobile-computer-supported collaborative learning: Meta-analysis and critical synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 87(4), 768–805.
*Tan, M., & Hew, K. F. (2016). Incorporating meaningful gamification in a blended learning research methods class: Examining student learning, engagement, and affective outcomes. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 32(5), 19–34. https://doi.org/10.14742/ajet.2232.
*Terrell, J. E. (2016). Instructional Methods and Engagement: The Impact of Gamification on Student Learning of APA Style (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from https://scholarworks.uark.edu/etd/1502
Thurlings, M., Vermeulen, M., Bastiaens, T., & Stijnen, S. (2013). Understanding feedback: A learning theory perspective. Educational Research Review, 9, 1–15.
*Turan, Z., Avinc, Z., Kara, K., & Goktas, Y. (2016). Gamification and education: Achievements, cognitive loads, and views of students. International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning (IJET), 11(07), 64–69. https://doi.org/10.3991/ijet.v11i07.5455.
*Van Nuland, S. E., Roach, V. A., Wilson, T. D., & Belliveau, D. J. (2015). Head to head: The role of academic competition in undergraduate anatomical education. Anatomical Sciences Education, 8(5), 404–412. https://doi.org/10.1002/ase.1498.
Verbert, K., Duval, E., Klerkx, J., Govaerts, S., & Santos, J. L. (2013). Learning analytics dashboard applications. American Behavioral Scientist, 57(10), 1500–1509.
*Watson-Huggins, J. (2018). An experimental study on the effects of a gamified software intervention mathematics achievement among sixth grade students (Doctorial dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest. (13820081)
Wilson, K. A., Bedwell, W. L., Lazzara, E. H., Salas, E., Burke, C. S., … Estock, J. L. (2009). Relationships between game attributes and learning outcomes: Review and research proposals. Simulation & Gaming, 40(2), 217–266.
*Zainuddin, Z. (2018). Students’ learning performance and perceived motivation in gamified flipped-class instruction. Computers & Education, 126, 75–88. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2018.07.003.
This study was not funded by any grants or contracts.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Huang, R., Ritzhaupt, A.D., Sommer, M. et al. The impact of gamification in educational settings on student learning outcomes: a meta-analysis. Education Tech Research Dev 68, 1875–1901 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11423-020-09807-z