Engaging gamification mechanics in MOOCs

This article identifies 40 gamification mechanics, and then discusses the findings of their research into the most engaging ones.

Chang, J. and Wei, H. (2016). ‘Exploring Engaging Gamification Mechanics in Massive Online Open Courses’, Educational Technology & Society, vol. 19, no. 2, pp. 177-203. Available at http://www.jstor.org/stable/jeductechsoci.19.2.177.


  1. Introduction
  2. Gamification in interactivity
  3. Learner-content interaction
    1. Self-expression
    2. Pattern recognition
    3. Time pressure
    4. Status
  4. Learner-instructor interaction
    1. Goal setting
    2. Instruction
    3. Rewards
  5. Learner-learner interaction
    1. Reputation points
    2. Peer tutoring
    3. Competition
    4. Altruism
    5. Group identification
    6. Peer appraisal
  6. Method and results
    1. Identifying gamification mechanics for MOOCs
    2. Determining the relative engagingness of gamification mechanics
  7. Discussion and implications
  8. Conclusion and suggestions


Massive online open courses (MOOCs) have exciting potential, but dismal results in terms of retention and completion rates, which is why some people are looking at ways to improve engagement, specifically with gamification. Gamification is adding game mechanics to something that is not a game. The question is, which specific game mechanics improve engagement?

In 1989, Moore identified three types of interaction: The learner interacts with content, other learners, and/or the instructor. The authors of this paper use the same categories to organize their discussion of specific game mechanics. They reviewed existing literature and interviewed MOOC experts to come up with their findings.

Note: There was quite a bit of data analysis involved in their research, which I am skipping in my notes here but they are detailed fully in the paper.

Concept map listing all gamification mechanics in MOOCs according to interaction type, as discussed

Concept map of all gamification mechanics in MOOCs, with the 10 most engaging ones highlighted (Chang and Wei, 2016, p. 182; highlights added)

Below is a discussion of the top five:

#1 Virtual goods: This is a display of achievement; the learner earns virtual goods when they reach a certain level. Special challenges can provide positive reinforcement (for example, by rewarding participation) and give an opportunity to earn special virtual goods.

#2 Redeemable points: This is also a display of achievement. Learners collect points throughout the course content, and then they can redeem the points for real-world (not virtual) goods such as toys and other items, to additional course material or software that enhances their participation in the game.

#3 Team leaderboards: These help build competition between teams, and as a result also build teamwork and cooperation within teams.

#4 Where’s Wally game: This supports discovery, exploration of the game, and problem solving. The learner tries to find hidden objects or meaning within the game.

#5 Trophies and badges: This is another display of achievement, as learners try to collect a large and wide variety of trophies and badges, which mark milestones and can be designed in a ladder formation to show increasing progress and levels of achievement. Badges are especially useful in mobile learning.

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