Gaming Instruction: Gamification vs Game-based Learning

In instructional technology, gamification is still one the most talked about methods for connecting learners with content especially in online learning. Proponents of gamification believe in its ability to provide a better learning experience because of its “fun factor”. At its heart, gamification is the application of incorporating game playing elements like competition or point scoring to a non-game situation as a way to engage learners. The key to understanding and thinking about gamification is learner engagement. In library instruction this has often been employed through the use of digital badges where an instructional event takes place and a badge may be earned in relation to participation, thus increasing engagement.

Game-based learning however is an instructional design approach that is based on defined learning outcomes in which a game format is used to reinforce educational goals.  Game-based learning is often an authentic learning experience that uses active learning in a game-like format to help learners apply subject matter. An example of game-based learning we use in the UC San Diego Library is the Jeopardy game we use within the Academic Integrity workshop to reinforce plagiarism concepts.

Gamification and game-based learning often times blend harmoniously yet there is a discrete distinction between the two.  Of the two, gamification of instruction is the most likely to go awry in part due to its lack of learning outcomes as a grounding principle. Learners can become distracted by the chase of achieving badges or flashing icons in online learning environments and fail to comprehend presented content. To keep the gaming of your instruction on point, focus on the learning objectives first before considering elements of engagement.

Motivated Learners: ARCS Model of Motivation

The ARCS Model of Motivation, developed by John Keller, is an instructional design approach used to engage learners.  It systematically outlines ways to gain a learner’s attention and then keep it through out a lesson.  ARCS stands for Attention, Relevance, Confidence and Satisfaction. Using instructional design practices like the ARCS model is one of the techniques used in Learning Services to create engaging online tutorials.  Here’s a look at the model in action.


Generally, gaining a learner’s attention is done through stimulating a learner’s perception or inquiry about a topic.  Keller refers to this as perceptual arousal and inquiry arousal.  Perceptual arousal grabs a learner’s attention through surprise or disbelief while inquiry arousal captures a learner’s interests by creating a need to solve a problem.  You are likely already familiar with how perceptual and inquiry arousal is stimulated as it is often the goal behind capturing a viewer’s attention in TV commercials.

There are a variety of ways to gain a learners attention and as an instructor you should feel free to experiment with and employ a variety of methods.  Some options include: active participation, use of humor, conflict, various media, and real world examples.

In the plagiarism tutorial, we used a variety of attention getters and placed them throughout the tutorial.  Initially the tutorial begins by testing the students on their knowledge through a short quiz.  If students get the quiz correct, they can move on.  If they get the quiz incorrect, they are forced to complete the tutorial.  This technique is unique as it can stimulate both perceptual and inquiry arousal.  Some learners will be surprised that they didn’t know as much as they though they did.  Other learners will see a challenge in figuring out why they received a wrong answer.  Another way attention was created and maintained during the tutorial was the use of animated characters that added a slight humorous feel to the lessons.


Relevance pertains to using analogies, stories, and other strategies that enables learners to relate to the material.  This includes linking material to current or previous experiences, showing learners the worth of learning the lesson by answering the “what’s in it for me” question or illustrating the usefulness of newly learned skills.

In the plagiarism tutorial we create relevance by relaying the message up front that this lesson will help you avoid plagiarism and its consequences.  It also uses case studies, written from the student perspective of possible real-world scenarios and their answers.  This helps student recognize their own misunderstanding about plagiarism and provides relevance.


Confidence is about helping a learner feel good about their ability to succeed.  If a learner feels like they will never “get it” or that the material is too hard, it puts up a mental block of discouragement and saps learner motivation.  Suggested ways of building confidence include: providing feedback, communicating objectives so that a learner can recognize when a goal or objective has been achieved, and taking small steps that show immediate success.

We build confidence in tutorials by presenting information in baby steps and building as we go.  We also provide positive feedback.  Even negative feedback is worded in a positive way that explains what the better choice would be.  Also built into the tutorial are what we call “You Try” activities that enables learners to practice new skills and test their understanding in a non-graded, low-risk environment.


At the end of a lesson, learners should feel satisfied that they have achieved a lessons objects, goals or gained new knowledge or skills.  Some strategies for increasing satisfaction are praise and rewards as well as immediate application.  Learns should feel the new knowledge or skill that was learned is immediately applicable and that the time spent learning was worth it.

Each of our tutorials end with praise via a congratulations message.  Satisfaction is also increased by a call to action that is given through a reiteration of what the learner can now achieve or do.

Engaged Learners in the Lecture Hall

Incorporating active learning into large lecture halls can be challenging. How exactly do you split a lecture hall into groups? If you did a think-pair-share would you even have time for the pairs to share?  Do you use polling with a show of hands? Crystal Goldman, the Instruction Coordinator at UCSD, shared a technique that encourages engagement in large groups called the Cephalonian Method during a recent Lunch and Learn workshop.

The Cephalonian Method was created by librarians Linda Davies and Nigel Morgan at the Cardiff University in Wales.  It is a technique that uses colored index cards with questions written on them to stimulate a guided conversation about a topic in the place of a traditional lecture. The best way to explain the method is to walk through an example.

Prior to my lesson, I would create a series of questions about the topic we will be discussing that are designed to illicit the information I would want to present.  I would write these questions on colored index cards using different colored cards to provide topical groupings.  I would also include a starting question on a card of a specific color as well as questions that help me transition from one topic to another, again using a different color.

On the day of the lecture, I would pass out these cards randomly to participants informing them that when called to do so they will need to stand up and read the question on their card aloud.  If they are unwilling to do so, I kindly ask them to pass the card off to someone who is.  After an introduction to start the lecture, I would ask for the first question that is identified by the card in orange (there should only be one orange card).  The orange card holder stands up, reads the question and the conversation begins.  Next, I would ask for anyone with a green card to stand up and read the question on the card.  There can be a number of green cards that represent a topic.  When I have exhausted all of the green cards, I would then ask for the yellow transition card (there should only be one) and then move on to the purple cards which identify the next topic.  In this way information is shared with the audience in a question answer conversational style that calls for audience participation.

What is nice about the Cephalonian method is that it can be used in any instructional setting but typically works best with a group of at least 20.  It is flexible and can be used to cover a variety of topics and concepts, answers could be simple verbal responses or require demonstrations, and cards can be modified to included numbers so that questions can be asked in order instead of randomly.  When using this technique with your audience, consider whether or not your topic can be approached in a non-linear format.  If not, you may want to stick with numbered cards.  Another tip is to actually write the color of the card on the card for members of the audience who may be colored blind.

Do you have ideas about engaging students in a large lecture hall setting?  What has worked for you?